What I’m Into, March edition

What I'm Into, March edition

Jones family #selfie at Wells Dam


These days I’m into road trips. Our most recent one was taken across the state to visit my beloved brother and his family in remote Omak. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it; neither have many Washingtonians. It’s not exactly a premier destination spot, but we love it there. We relish the slower pace, the spacious views, Rock Wall Cellars right down the road, and best

What I'm Into, March editionof all, the eternally significant, soul-enriching conversations with our loved ones. I’m also into unplanned stops along the way, such as when we paused at the Wells Dam because someone needed a pit stop NOW. There, we discovered a petroglyph, a view, and a ginormous turbine which became a climbing toy for our boy. We spent only ten minutes there but made forever family memories. Which to me says that road trips, like life, are just as much about the journey as the destination.

You know how sometimes you stumble across something small that ends up delighting you in big ways? What I'm Into, March editionThat’s what happened when I picked up this little gem: A Collection of Wednesdays: Creating a Whole from the Parts by Amy Gaither Hayes (yes, of the famous Gaither family musical dynasty). I saw it on a shelf and decided to buy it for myself, and since this is something I very rarely do, the fact that I did is beginning to feel a little God-ordained. Or maybe a lot. I am loving this book. My soul resonates in the same way it has with Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water and Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine. I love the whole idea of it–of the bits of our lives comprising the whole–as well as her philosophy of melding art and heart. It holds stories, reflections and poetry. I find myself alternating between responses of, Yes! Me too! and Oh! I want to do that.

This book no doubt had something to do with it, but these days I’m also into poems. That is, not only reading them but writing them as well. I have to tell you, nothing surprises me more, but I love it. It seems proof positive that one is never too old to grow into something new. Here’s the first one I wrote a few weeks ago:

I wonder if I can write a poem
I never thought I could (or would)
But maybe it’s only because I didn’t try
Afraid that I might fail.

That’s it! But it was the start. I’ve written at least five others since then, and am excited to have found this new-to-me way of expressing.

Finally, these days I’m into all things Irish. As I’ve mentioned, hubby and I will be What I'm Into, March editioncelebrating our 25th in Ireland this summer–yes, sans kiddos. It is an anniversary trip, after all. Our planning is just about complete, with airfare purchased and accommodations reserved. And here at home, I’ve been serving Irish (steel-cut) oats, reading from my book of Celtic Daily Prayer, drinking Irish Breakfast tea, discovering Yeats (poetry again), and planning our traditional St. Patrick’s Day feast of corned beef, colcannon and Irish soda bread.

So that’s it for me. What are you into these days?

Secrets of a Charmed Life, book review

Secrets of a Charmed Life, book reviewShe stood at a crossroads, half-aware that her choice would send her down a path from which there could be no turning back. But instead of two choices, she saw only one—because it was all she really wanted to see…

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

About this book: (from the publisher) Current day, Oxford, England. Young American scholar Kendra Van Zant, eager to pursue her vision of a perfect life, interviews Isabel McFarland just when the elderly woman is ready to give up secrets about the war that she has kept for decades…beginning with who she really is. What Kendra receives from Isabel is both a gift and a burden–one that will test her convictions and her heart.

1940s, England. As Hitler wages an unprecedented war against London’s civilian population, hundreds of thousands of children are evacuated to foster homes in the rural countryside. But even as fifteen-year-old Emmy Downtree and her much younger sister Julia find refuge in a charming Cotswold cottage, Emmy’s burning ambition to return to the city and apprentice with a fashion designer pits her against Julia’s profound need for her sister’s presence. Acting at cross purposes just as the Luftwaffe rains down its terrible destruction, the sisters are cruelly separated, and their lives are transformed…

About the author: A native of San Diego, Susan Meissner is a former managing editor of a weekly newspaper and an award-winning columnist. She has published fifteen novels with New American Library, Harvest House, and WaterBrook, divisions of Penguin Random House. She lives in San Diego with her husband and has four grown children.

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary-Historical*

Why I read this book: because when I learned one of my best-liked authors (A Seahorse in the Thames is a fave) was releasing a new novel, I couldn’t resist.

First impressions: Thumbs up on a cover that should appeal to any Anglophile, and an attention-winning start to the story.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG

Reminds me of… Sarah’s Key, only not so grim

Will especially appeal to… female connoisseurs of World War II-era histfic

This story matters because…it reminds of that we must forgive ourselves for being able to make only our own choices and no one else’s.

My take: I have always enjoyed Susan Meissner’s seemingly effortless prose–seemingly being key, as I know full-well it’s not really. Her narrative flows as smoothly as the silk from which Emmy dreams of fashioning her bridal dresses.

The more I read, the more I liked this novel–especially the last third, when all the pieces of what turned out to be a very complicated jigsaw puzzle came together, resulting in an unusual degree of resonance. I also appreciated the light touch on faith issues, which lends crossover appeal to both mainstream and Christian readers.

In this story, I found that Meissner maintained a certain narrative distance–as a reader, I didn’t inhabit the skin of her characters like I might have were it written in a deep-POV (point of view) style. This isn’t a criticism, only an observation. In fact, given the story’s range, the bulk of which takes place over a span of a couple of decades, it was probably necessary.

The fruit of the author’s research is more than impressive, and I’m grateful for her deeper insights into a truly fascinating era. Honestly, will writers ever finish plumbing its depths? Unlikely.  I feel especially enlightened on the subject of London’s evacuation of children. It was a period in modern world history that managed to be both hopeful and heartrending–and Meissner does a marvelous job of capturing both.

Thanks to New American Library/Penguin for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: *A word about my genre description: Though this novel is mainly histfic, it is framed by a brief contemporary story line, an increasingly popular story device Meissner has used before. Given its success, I expect we’ll be seeing more of this structure from both her and other writers.

At the end of the book, I found the “Conversation with Susan Meissner” particularly worthwhile. One thing she remarks on is the tendency to underestimate hardships, once they have passed, that previous generations have endured–and the danger that lies therein of missing important lessons and stories that really should be passed along to younger generations. From your own family history, can you recall a time when this has happened? What would you do to correct this tendency, moving forward?

Pants! No Chance! guest book review + giveaway

Pants! No Chance! guest book review + giveaway

I’m pleased today to be joined again by my daughter, Madeline, who offers her perspective as a “Buddy Reader,” a role she plays at school, where, as a “big reader” she is paired with a “littler reader” to encourage good reading habits.

Pants! No Chance! by Susan Lanyi. Illustrated by Alexandre Rouillard

About this book: Lulupop rarely puts up a fuss, EXCEPT when it comes to wearing pants. Dresses, dresses, dresses, is all she will ever wear! With time, a little drama, and no lack of imagination, Lulupop realizes that wearing dresses is not always the best choice.

About the author: Susan Lanyi lives in Montreal with her husband, three children and puppy. She is a writer and has previously been published in The Globe and Mail. When Susan is not busy writing or doing “mom stuff” she is shopping for dresses with her daughter….Too bad her daughter only wants to wear pants!

Connect with Susan:  Website  ~  Twitter

Genre: Fiction/Children’s

Why we read this book: For iRead for review.

First impressions: Attractive cover on a hardcover book that is a good weight and size.

If this book were a movie, we would rate it: G

Will especially appeal to…young readers, especially girls around the age of five.

Madeline’s take: I liked this book, and I think kids will like it too.

The beginning of the story captured my interest and made me want to keep reading. I liked Lulupop’s stubbornness but that she is in the end willing to learn from her mistakes.

There is a pattern in the writing–the same conversation every morning–which might be good for little kids, but it might also get a little repetitive. There is one other awkward part. At the beginning of each new day, there’s a line at the start that tells the day and what pants Lulupop’s  mom wants her to wear. (For example: Monday–jeans.) I didn’t think this was necessary. It interrupted the flow of the story. If I was reading this to my Buddy Reader, I’d skip over this part.

But otherwise, the story was good. I like how there is a different thing that happens to Lulupop every day, and how in the end she learns her lesson and how to solve her problem.

The illustrations are really good. I like the details and the colors, how the watercolors give the illustrations a softer look, not harsh, which would probably be good for kids.

Thanks to iRead Book Tours and Domnizelles Publications for providing us a free copy to review. All opinions are ours.

About my co-reviewer: Madeline is a fifth grader who enjoys reading, writing, drawing, dancing, and yes–wearing pants.

See what other reviewers are saying here. Plus–the author is offering a chance to win one of 5 print copies of Pants! No Chance! Open internationally. Ends March 7. Just click here: a Rafflecopter giveaway.

After words: Do you have a favorite book from childhood? Mine has got to be Norah Smaridge’s The Big Tidy-Up. I can honestly say it changed my life, and my mother’s too: she never had to ask me to clean my room again. How ’bout you?

Becoming a Spiritually Healthy Family, book review

Becoming a Spiritually Healthy Family, book review“Wisdom comes from being in relationship with God and discerning His voice above all the other voices clamoring for my attention.” ~ from page 42 of Becoming a Spiritually Healthy Family: Avoiding the 6 Dysfunctional Parenting Styles by Michelle Anthony

About this book: We all want to guide our children into the abundant life that Jesus offers. But when we pursue the more and better that the world offers above our pursuit of Jesus, we fall into dangerous parenting habits. In Becoming a Spiritually Formed Family, Michelle Anthony unpacks six common dysfunctional parenting styles that we fall into out of habit, lack of attention, or just oversight due to busyness. If you long to show your children Jesus but don’t know how to do it, you’ll find hope in this practical guide to creating a relentlessly grace-filled home that is focused on God as first in charge.

Includes Scripture guides, reflection questions, ideas for family rites of passage, and other real life family examples.

About the author: Michelle Anthony is the vice president of Learning Resources and Family Ministry Architect at David C Cook and the author of Spiritual Parenting, Dreaming of More for the Next Generation, A Theology of Family Ministry, and The Big God Story. Michelle has graduate degrees in Christian education, theology, and leadership and over twenty-five years of church ministry experience as a children’s and family pastor. She lives in Colorado Springs and loves a good book and a cup of coffee. Learn more about her at

Genre: Religion/Christian Life/Family

Why I read this book: because as a Christian mom, I’m always seeking ways for our family to become more spiritually healthy.

First impressions: Unfortunately–unless I was specifically seeking help in this area–this uninspired cover would do little to make me want to read this book.

Reminds me of… Effective Parenting in a Defective World by Chip Ingram

My take: I found this book less of a how-to and more of an examination of the brokenness that lies at the root of several types of family dysfunctions–which is important, as identifying this is the first step toward change and healing.

The author devotes an entire chapter to each of the six dysfunctions. Did I recognize myself in any of the dysfunctions described? Yes, and not always in the ways I first expected. Given this, I’d therefore say there’s something for every reader in every chapter.

Nuggets like the one quoted above resonated with my own parenting experiences. Then there was this one, which provided an especially appreciated aha moment : “When we pursue Jesus, we get the abundant life. When we pursue the abundant life, we get dysfunction.” (page 14) Yes.

With some books you get the sense that the author is coming alongside you; others feel more like they are teaching, or counseling. I felt more of the latter with this one. Nothing wrong with that of course–sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed. But my own soul didn’t sing with the truths being taught in quite the same way.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity and David C. Cook for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine. 

See what other Litfuse bloggers are saying here.

After words: I remember at the baby shower given to me after the birth of our son, the hostess invited my friends to offer me their best parenting advice. The one I best remember is to be consistent in disciplining. Easier said than done, right? If you are a parent, what is the most memorable piece of advice you’ve been given? Is is the same advice that you yourself would give today?

New Uses for Old Boyfriends, book review + giveaway

New Uses for Old Boyfriends, book review + Giveaway

New Uses for Old Boyfriends by Beth Kendrick

About this book: (from the publisher) After growing up in privilege and marrying into money, Lila Alders has gotten used to the good life. But when her happily-ever-after implodes, Lila must return to Black Dog Bay, the tiny seaside town where she grew up. She’s desperate for a safe haven, but everything has changed over the past ten years. Her family’s fortune is gone—and her mother is in total denial. It’s up to Lila to take care of everything…but she can barely take care of herself.

The former golden girl of Black Dog Bay struggles to reinvent herself by opening a vintage clothing boutique. But even as Lila finds new purpose for outdated dresses and tries to reunite with her ex, she realizes that sometimes it’s too late for old dreams. She’s lost everything she thought she needed but found something—someone—she desperately wants. A boy she hardly noticed has grown up into a man she can’t forget…and a second chance has never felt so much like first love.

About the author: Beth Kendrick is the author of Cure for the Common Breakup, Week Before the Wedding, The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service, and Nearlyweds, which was turned into a Hallmark Channel original movie. Although she lives in Arizona, she loves to vacation at the Delaware shore, where she brakes for turtles, eats boardwalk fries, and wishes that the Whinery really existed.

Genre: Fiction/Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

Why I read this book: Because it looked like fun.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for occasional profanity and sexual innuendo

Reminds me of…Jennifer Weiner, Lauren Weisberger, Helen Fielding

This story matters because…it warns of the danger of getting so caught up in what everyone else thinks that we fail to go after what we really want.

My take: This booked looked like fun to me, and so it was. A quick read–I think it took me all of four days–and every page a pleasure. A bit of a guilty pleasure, perhaps, because there wasn’t much too it in terms of takeaway. This is escapism, folks. But still–fun, filled with witty dialogue, a likable heroine, and some clever twists on familiar romantic themes. And it wasn’t altogether vacuous–there were some redeeming themes, such as realizing the impossibility of people-pleasing. It was relatively clean too: it had some mostly mild language, and anything “adult” happened off-stage. All in all, it was an enjoyable, lighthearted read–perfect for packing in a bag for the beach this spring.

Thanks to NAL/Penguin Books for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: New Uses for Old Boyfriends takes place on the Delaware shore, one of the author’s favorite getaway spots. What are some of yours? Leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of her book for your next getaway!

The Truth About Suzie, book review

The Truth About Suzie, book review

A medical crisis. A mysterious reconnection with an old friend. An actual boyfriend. Cecily’s had a busy year.

The Truth About Suzie by Erica Rimlinger

About this book: Childhood neighbors Suzie and Cecily lost touch when Suzie moved away after fifth grade. Through social media, they rekindle their offbeat friendship when they find they are simultaneously fighting cancer.

But Cecily has just learned from a reality television show that Suzie has died–of complications due to alcohol and drug abuse. Did Suzie really have cancer at all? Or was she, as the Dr. Dick show makes it appear, a compulsive liar and an alcoholic living in denial to the end?

Their relationship, and the truth about Suzie, is revealed through Facebook updates, emails and prose. Technology is both a story-telling device and an accomplice, facilitating the relationships and complicating them.

The Truth About Suzie explores the threads that hold us together and asks the reader what makes a relationship real. Does the virtual mirror of social media distort us, or do we distort it to reflect what pleases us about ourselves and hide what doesn’t?

About the author: Erica Rimlinger lives in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband, Kevin, and son, Max. learn more about her and her other work at

Genre: Fiction

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: A shade past PG-13 for occasional profanity and sexual innuendo.

Why I read this book: Because it’s about a topic that hits scarily close to home.

Reminds me of… Beth Kendrick, Jennifer Weiner, Lauren Weisberger, Helen Fielding. Edgy chick lit with a breast-cancer twist.

This story matters because…it examines the transcendent, enduring nature of friendship.

My take: First off, can I just say that I admire what this author has done? She’s taken one of life’s scariest situations and found humor and hope in it, which she has then transformed into an entertaining story to buoy other women who may also–if not now, then someday–find themselves in similar situations. In my opinion, this is why writers are called to write: to lift up our fellow life travelers. Bravo.

From the outset, I was intrigued by the premise of The Truth About Suzie, and this–coupled with the fact that my sweet, young (34) sis-in-law had just been diagnosed with breast cancer–compelled me to take a look.

While I liked the way the opening gambit brought me right into Cecily’s life, I also found those first few pages a bit confusing. It was the narrative order that tripped me up–it didn’t unfold linearly. Then there was a bigger chronological jump back to over a year before when Cecily was first diagnosed with cancer, as revealed by way of her social media postings. I found this and some head-hopping (when the narrative point of view switches from one character’s perspective to another without explanation or break) a bit distracting.


These are on the whole fairly minor issues. What I would choose to focus on is the author’s sassy take on a serious subject. The Truth About Suzie is filled quirky characters as well as the wisdom and self-deprecating humor of someone who’s been there. I have a hunch that if I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and craved the perspective of a survivor, this book would be just what the doctor ordered.

Thanks to the author for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: Friends, wherever you find yourself in this adventure called life, I think you would be uplifted and encouraged by the perspective Erica offers in this blog post: I Might Be Doomed. And I’m Happier Than I’ve Ever Been. It cheered me and made me look at some of my own life circumstances more hopefully.

Have you or a loved-one been through a life-threatening situation? What have you learned?

The Dandelion Field, book review + giveaway

The Dandelion Field, book review + giveawayThis handsome firefighter makes a living coming to the rescue, but Gin doesn’t need a man to fight her battles.

The Dandelion Field by Kathryn Springer

About this book: (from the publisher) After Raine’s dad walked out, Ginevieve Lightly  never lived in one place too long, a rambling lifestyle that defined her daughter’s youth. When their car dies in Banister Falls, Wisconsin, Gin promises Raine they can stay until she finishes her senior year of high school. Gin will do anything to make sure her daughter has a bright future . . . a future that’s compromised when Raine reveals she’s pregnant.

Dan Moretti has only ever called Banister Falls home. After losing his best friend in a tragic accident, Dan devoted himself to responding to fires, rescuing the helpless, and guiding Cody Bennett, his best friend’s son, through life. With Cody being the epitome of the good kid, it was an easy job. Until he says four little words: “The baby is mine.”

Knowing gossip of Raine’s pregnancy will erupt sooner or later in the small town, Gin’s reflex is to grab the suitcase and escape to a new city, a new life. But with each passing day, Gin’s feet stay rooted in Banister Falls, and she falls a little more for this local firefighter who shows her not all men abandon women at the first sign of smoke.

As Gin and Dan do the best they can to guide the two teenagers through their early entry into adulthood, they discover together that romance can bloom in the rockiest of situations. And God can turn the pieces of a broken past into a beautiful new beginning.

About the author: (excerpted from her website) Kathryn Springer, winner of the 2009 ACFW Carol Award (Family Treasures), grew up in a small town in northern Wisconsin, where her parents published a weekly newspaper. After a number of busy years, when she married her college sweetheart and became a stay-at-home mom, Kathryn rediscovered her love for writing. It wasn’t until her youngest child started school that she decided to pursue her dream to write a novel. In August 2004, her Love Inspired® debut novel, Tested by Fire, was published. Encouraging women in their faith journey is the reason Kathryn loves to write inspirational fiction. She hosts a women’s Bible study in her home and volunteers in a local MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) ministry. When she isn’t at the computer, you’ll find her curled up with a good book, spending time with family and friends or walking on the trails near her country home.

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Romance

Why I read this book: I liked the cover and the back cover copy.

First impressions: One of the snappiest, drop-you-into-the-heart-of-the-story first chapters I’ve seen lately.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG.

Reminds me of… inspirational contemporary romance novels by Denise Hunter and Beth Wiseman

This story matters because…it showcases God’s ability to transform brokenness into beauty.

My take:  Inspirational, small-town romances should almost be a genre to themselves, don’t you think? I mean, there are certain ingredients you come to expect. The fiesty heroine. The handsome love interest. The problem that’s especially problematic for it occurring in a small town. As per The Dandelion Field–check, check, & check.

While it may not be terribly full of surprises, this romance is nonetheless a pleasure. First of all, I appreciated the nuanced shifting of the two main characters’ emotions. I was entertained by the snappy dialogue–especially whenever Gin was involved. I also liked the pithy chapters that made this novel a quick read. If it was all a shade on the simplistic side, that says more about my personal taste, and perhaps the genre, than it does about the book itself.

In my opinion, The Dandelion Field does everything it’s called to do. It delivers likable characters battling real-life problems in an appealing setting. It also delivers plenty of small-town details meant to warm your heart. You’ll certainly be rooting for the characters, and the author does a lovely job of providing a satisfying happily-ever-after for them all.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity and Zondervan for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

See what other Litfuse bloggers are saying here.

After words: Why do you suppose so many inspirational romances are set in small towns? Not being a small-town girl myself–but nonetheless drawn to their nostalgic appeal–I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Get ready for Valentine’s Day with a new story of romance and falling in love in Kathryn Springer’s The Dandelion FieldThe handsome firefighter makes a living “coming to the rescue,” but Gin is used to fighting her own battles. Can a woman who doesn’t believe in happy endings take a chance on a new beginning? 

Celebrate a second chance at love and family with Kathryn by entering her Kindle Fire giveaway!


One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire
  • The Dandelion Field

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on February 15th. Winner will be announced February 16th on the Litfuse blog.




With Valentine’s Day just around the bend, had to share this cute video from romance novelist Courtney Walsh.

I got a peek at her novel too, which is filled to the brim with small-town, big-hearted inspirational romance.

Paper Hearts by Courtney Walsh

About this book: (from the publisher) Abigail Pressman would never have guessed that love notes penned on paper hearts by an #ShareYourHeartanonymous couple could restore her belief in love. As a business owner in a quaint town at the base of the Rockies, she’s poured everything into dreams of expansion . . . and resisting the matchmaking efforts of the Valentine Volunteers, who gather in her store to continue Loves Park’s tradition of stamping mail with the city’s romantic postmark.

When Abigail is unwillingly drafted into the Volunteers, she encounters the paper hearts, a distraction that couldn’t come at a worse time. A hard-to-read doctor has become Abigail’s new landlord, and he’s threatening to end her lease to expand his practice.

As she fights a growing attraction to this handsome man crushing her dreams, Abigail is inspired to string the hearts in her store, sparking a citywide infatuation with the artsy trend. But when a new batch of hearts reaches the Volunteers, it appears something tragic has happened to the couple. Will uncovering their story confirm Abigail’s doubts about love, or could it rescue her dreams . . . and her heart?

The Housemaid’s Daughter, book review

The Housemaid's Daughter, book reviewBarbara Mutch’s first novel tells a story of love and duty colliding on the arid plains of Apartheid-era South Africa.

The Housemaid’s Daughter by Barbara Mutch

About this book: (from the publisher) When Cathleen Harrington leaves her home in Ireland in 1919 to travel to South Africa, she knows that she does not love the man she is to marry there —her fiance Edward, whom she has not seen for five years. Isolated and estranged in a small town in the harsh Karoo desert, her only real companions are her diary and her housemaid, and later the housemaid’s daughter, Ada. When Ada is born, Cathleen recognizes in her someone she can love and respond to in a way that she cannot with her own family.

Under Cathleen’s tutelage, Ada grows into an accomplished pianist and a reader who cannot resist turning the pages of the diary, discovering the secrets Cathleen sought to hide. As they grow closer, Ada sees new possibilities in front of her—a new horizon. But in one night, everything changes, and Cathleen comes home from a trip to find that Ada has disappeared, scorned by her own community. Cathleen must make a choice: should she conform to society, or search for the girl who has become closer to her than her own daughter?

Set against the backdrop of a beautiful, yet divided land, The Housemaid’s Daughter is a startling and thought-provoking novel that intricately portrays the drama and heartbreak of two women who rise above cruelty to find love, hope, and redemption.

About the author: (from her website) Barbara was born and brought up in South Africa, the granddaughter of Irish immigrants who settled in the Karoo in the early 1900s. She went to school in Durban and Port Elizabeth and then graduated from Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape during the height of apartheid.

She is married and has two sons. For most of the year the family lives in Surrey near London but spends time whenever possible at their home in the Cape.

In her career, she has consulted for, launched and managed a number of businesses both in South Africa and the UK. Barbara is currently a partner in a management consulting firm.

Barbara loves music and is a gifted pianist like Ada. She is an amateur naturalist with a particular interest in Cape fynbos and birds, as well as being a follower of African politics and history. Barbara is a keen golfer, and with her husband enjoys flying light aircraft.

Genre: Fiction/Historical

Why I read this book: The subject, for one–am always interested in stories like these, especially the hopeful ones. My interest was further heightened because I traveled to South Africa last year, and will travel to Ireland this year–both of which play a role in this story.

First impressions: Lovely, evocative cover, and I liked the way its first pages drew me into the story.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG, for its weighty material (rape–not violent and not explicit, but it is what it is; and social violence, again not explicit). Was there a single profanity? If there was, I didn’t catch it. Bravo.

Reminds me of… The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This story matters…as it shows how love can transcend our differences while affirming our hope for racial equality and justice.

My take: A gentle story of love and acceptance, told in languid prose, The Housemaid’s Daughter is a well-imagined look into the birth–and death–of South Africa’s Apartheid. Its vivid descriptions take you there. I experienced a subtle drawing-forward into the story as the character’s lives, and problems, unfolded.  Though its characters are not particularly complex, they are clearly drawn, each playing a role in the progression of the story. While I didn’t become as emotionally drawn into it as I would like, it’s nonetheless an enlightening story of a troubled era. If you have an interest in exploring this part of the world and this slice of its history–and if you like tales with heartwarming, enduring friendship beating at its center–you will likely find much appealing here.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Griffin for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: I can still remember that shared feeling of rejoicing when Apartheid ended in 1994–similar to when the Berlin Wall came down a few years before. What other recent world events do you recall where you felt a renewed hope for this weary world of ours?

What I’m Into ~ February edition

A few years ago our family launched the What I’m Into ~ February editiontradition of watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy over the span of these dark winter months. Beginning in January, after the hustle of the holidays are behind, we cozy up for a couple of hours at a time with our kiddos and a fire in the fireplace on a weekend evening. On these short, chilly days, when nighttime descends so early, we relish dwelling for a time in the mystical world of Middle Earth, where the eternal themes of redemption, sacrifice, courage, love, and salvation shine so clearly.What I’m Into ~ February edition

On a more prosaic note, as the start of the new year finds me with more on my plate than usual, I’m relying once more on the trusty Pomodoro Technique. In these weeks of working on my newest WIP, alongside all the other projects that need my attention, this is about the only thing that keeps me sane and on track. It entails using a timer, but there’s a bit more to it than that. To learn more about how it works, and why it’s called what it is, click here.

As I mentioned last month, I’m in the process of gathering my mom’s stories to document for the enrichment of all of her family. In the process, my interest in genealogy has reawakened, and I am What I’m Into ~ February editionsloowwly making some inroads into exploring our family tree. I find myself checking out from the library such thick, dry tomes as The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy and Ancestry’s Redbook. On the lighter side, I also find myself seeking advice from lovely people such as amateur genealogist Brandy Heineman, who is generous with her tips and whose debut novel, Whispers in the Branches, is soon to release. All told, I’ll admit researching one’s family tree is a wee bit overwhelming. But here’s a little fun fact about me. Family lore has long held that we are connected to Sir Francis Drake–on my father’s side he’s an umpteenth-great uncle or some such. But apparently we are also descended from England’s William the Conqueror, through his son King Henry I and his first mistress. (So no, sadly–no legitimate claim to the British throne.) I told my husband that this explained where I got my 5-star tastes. He said it explained where I got my What I’m Into ~ February editionassertiveness. Hm.

I’ve mentioned this in passing, but here I need to shine on a bit more. The Causebox by sevenly. This subscription service entitles you, every quarter, to receive a box of socially conscious products, each of which is designed to benefit women. When I first heard about it, I hesitated several days before signing up–because really, who needs more stuff? If only I’d known what goodness this box held, I wouldn’t have paused for a second. Oh my. LOVE: the goodies, the cause, and whom it empowers. Best yet, a portion of my subscription went toward a charity I chose. Do you have a daughter? Madeline and I had such fun opening our winter Causebox together. The products we found were not merely trinkets; they meant something and provided great openers for discussing issues that matter. Check it out.

So that’s it for me. What are you into these days?