The Dog Who Saved Me, book review + giveaway

The Dog Who Saved Me, book review + giveawayFrom the New York Times bestselling author of A Man of His Own comes a novel about one very special dog and the human lives he touches.

The Dog Who Saved Me by Susan Wilson

About this book: (from the publisher) Boston police officer Cooper Harrison never thought he’d go back to his hometown, Harmony Farms. But when his faithful K-9 partner Argos is killed in the line of duty, Cooper, caught in a spiral of trauma and grief, has nowhere else to turn. Jobless and on the verge of divorce, he accepts an offer for the position of dog officer in Harmony Farms, leaving the life he spent twenty years building behind.

And so he finds himself back where he started. Where his father was once known as the town drunk and his brother outgrew juvenile delinquency to become a drug dealer. Where he grew up as ‘one of those’ Harrisons. Cooper does his job with deliberate detachment, refusing to get emotionally invested in another dog the way he had with Argos–until he finds himself rescuing a wounded and gun-shy yellow lab gone feral.

Cooper never thought he’d find himself going back in order to move forward, and yet Harmony Farms is the one place where Cooper must learn to forgive and, only then, heal. All with the help of a yellow dog.

About the author: (excerpted from her website) Susan is the author of nine well-received novels including her 2010 novel, ONE GOOD DOG, which enjoyed six weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and THE DOG WHO DANCED received the coveted Maxwell Medal for Fiction from the Dog Writer’s Association of America in 2012.

She has two grown daughters and three grandchildren. She lives on Martha’s Vineyard with her husband and her demanding terrierist, Bonnie. She is working on her next novel, another work featuring the complicated relationship between humans and the dogs they love.

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for occasional profanity and violence to animals

Reminds me of…The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein; Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan

Will especially appeal to…dog lovers, natch.

This story matters because…it reminds us that for as long as there’s life, there’s hope.

My take: Might be easiest to simply cut to the chase and start with this: What didn’t I like about this book?

Answer: Not much.

Okay, if I have to go there, I’ll admit it’s not easy reading about animal cruelty, which is a necessary part of this story. I rather hurried through those few scenes, which are mercifully brief.

With that out of the way, I’m free to rave. I loved this book. I held off responsibilities (sorry, family!) in order to finish in near-record time. It was just that good. I reveled in its overarching themes of love, forgiveness, justice, and letting go. I also appreciated the author’s deft narrative touch, and her in-depth knowledge of dogs and humans alike. Her combination of likable characters (and one or two despicable ones), plus the variety of narrative view points–ranging from Cooper’s first person account, to the third person accounts of Bull and the yellow dog, to the omniscient flashback scenes–it all works.

While of course this book is intended for dog lovers, I’m hard pressed to think of many–man or woman–who won’t enjoy this one. There’s a little of something for everyone: suspense, mystery, romance–all wrapped up in a beautiful blend of masterful storytelling. I raced through the last few chapters, holding my breath to see if the ending would satisfy as deeply as did all the rest.

It did.

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

After words: Bonus! It so happens I have an extra Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of The Dog Who Saved Me that I’ll be happy to send to one lucky reader. Leave a comment to be entered to win.

The Art of Racing in the Rain, Marley & Me, and The Dog That Talked to God are three other novels about dogs I’ve read and enjoyed in recent years. How about you?


How to Catch a Prince, book review + giveaway

How to Catch a Prince, book review + giveawayShe caught her prince once. Can she catch him again?

How to Catch a Prince by Rachel Hauck

About this book: American heiress Corina Del Rey’s life was devastated by war. Every thing she loved was lost. But after five years of grief, she’s shed her grave-clothes and started over in the sunshine along the Florida coast.

But some things are not so easily forgotten. When a secret from her past confronts her face to face, she realizes she must follow her heart. Even if it costs her everything.

Prince Stephen of Brighton Kingdom is a former Royal Air Command lieutenant turned star rugby player, trying to make sense of his life after the devastation of war.
When his brother, King Nathaniel, discovers Stephen’s pre-war secret, he must deal with an aspect of his life he longed to forget. But how can he do so without exposing the truth and breaching national security?

Yet, true love has a destiny all its own. As the cathedral bells peal through Cathedral City, Corina and Stephen must choose to answer the call of love on their hearts.
Or let it be lost forever.

About the author: Rachel Hauck is an award-winning, best-selling author of critically acclaimed novels such as The Wedding Dress, Love Starts with Elle, and Once Upon A Prince. She also penned the Songbird Novels with multi-platinum recording artist, Sara Evans. Booklist named their novel, Softly and Tenderly, one of 2011 Top Ten Inspirationals. She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, and conference speaker. Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband and pets.

Find Rachel online: website, Facebook, Twitter

Genre: Fiction/Christian/Romance

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

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: G, thank you very much.

Will especially appeal to…royal watchers.

This story matters because…it reminds us of the power of true love.

My take: If you have a fascination with all things royal, or wonder what it would be like to live like the 1%; if you love wholesome romance wrapped around a story of faith and second chances; if you crave indulgence in a contemporary, real-world fantasy–then I’ve got a book for you.

How to Catch a Prince is the third in Hauck’s acclaimed Royal Wedding Series, and it’s not hard to understand why the series has met with enthusiasm from her myriad fans. Hauck delivers winsome characters with a light touch and lays down breezy prose with the confidence of a seasoned pro. And she’s not afraid to address issues, either. There’s real life here, mixed in with the fairy tale.

For me personally, I have to admit this one was a bit too frothy to be a fave. And the secret marriage set-up stretched my credibility, as did the Del Reys’ 5-year sojourn in inconsolable grief. Not that grief isn’t complicated, or warranted, but the degree of it didn’t seem to match up with their faith or strength of character otherwise. However, as this novel is more or less a fantasy, I would anticipate that most readers would be willing to suspend disbelief thus far.

All in all, Hauck delivers a fun twist on classic romance: a modern-day fairy tale, complete with requisite happily ever after.

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

After words: Are you a royal watcher? If so, which one do you most enjoy watching and why?

By the way, you can see what other Litfuse reviewers are saying here. And don’t miss this fun giveaway! Details below…

An American heiress and a crown prince seem destined to be together. Will the devastation of war keep them apart forever? Find out in Rachel Hauck’s new book, How to Catch a Prince. True love has a destiny all its own. With a little heavenly help, Prince Stephen and Corina embark on a journey of truth. But when the secrets are revealed, can they overcome, move forward, and find love again?

Enter to win a “royal” prize pack! 

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One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A royal-themed Brighton charm bracelet
  • 2 tickets to see the new Cinderella movie
  • The Royal Wedding series (Once Upon a Prince, Princess Ever After, and How to Catch a Prince)

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on March 23rd. Winner will be announced March 24th on Rachel’s blog.

catchaprince-enterbanner
 

{NOT ON FACEBOOK? ENTER HERE.}


Still Life, book review

Still Life, book reviewAda escaped her family’s self-enclosed world to elope with a mysterious stranger. Five months later, she’s a widow in a strange new world.

Still Life by Christa Parrish

About this book: (from the publisher) Ada was born into a fringe religious sect named for her father, The Prophet. But her lifelong habit of absolute obedience was shattered when she fled the family compound to elope with photographer Julian Goetz.

Katherine Walker’s marriage was a sham. She and Will rarely spoke without yelling—and never touched. Her affair brings her both escape and guilt.

When a tragic plane crash takes Julian from Ada and exacerbates Katherine’s sense of shame, both women become desperately unsure of where they belong in the world—until the devotion of an artistic young boy conspires to bring them together.

From award-winning novelist Christa Parrish, Still Life is a cunningly complex work that captures themes of abusive religion, supernatural love, and merciful escape. It will resonate with anyone who has ever felt called to a drastic change—or tried to hear the small whisper of God’s voice.

About the author: (from her website) Christa Parrish is the award-winning author of four novels and founder of Breaking the Sea Ministries. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, pastor and writer Chris Coppernoll, and they have four children in their blended family. When not writing, she is creative director of The Mission Community Church and produces a weekly radio show.

Genre: Religion/Christian/General

Why I read this book: because I’ve read this author’s books before (Stones for Bread remains a fave) and I like the way she writes real and writes redeemed.

First impressions: Appealing cover, hook beginning. Check and check.

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

Reminds me of… Far From Here by Nicole Baart

Will especially appeal to…photographers and those who have been wounded by religion.

This story matters because…it reminds us that art has the power to bring people to “the doorstep of the divine, stirring them not only to compassion but to action.” (from Still Life, page 182)

My take: I was a happy girl for the days I was reading this novel because this is what I love: Christian fiction that reads like mainstream, with all the gravitas, grit, and nuance that that entails, but without the profanity, without the sex-without-consequences, and with a healthy shot of hope for second chances.

I found Still Life to be a page-turner, and a masterfully constructed one at that. The set-up kept me asking questions, which in turn kept me turning those pages as swiftly as I could. For the first third of the novel, I asked how on earth Ada had come to be Julian’s wife. Somewhere in the middle I feared for Ada’s life and asked how she was going to escape the strong pull of her past. Then for the last third, I wondered how Ada was going to make it without Julian, and whether Katherine could possibly restore the wreck of her marriage and family, and whether both women could hope for a brighter tomorrow.

As in all her novels, Christa Parrish writes from the heart to the heart. Passages like this exchange between a kind pastor and a hurting boy darted beneath the surface to find resonance with my soul:

“There has to be a reason [Julian Goetz is dead.]”

“Oh, yes, there’s a reason. There are a million reasons. But none of them matter one single iota unless you can fall on Jesus, wrap your arms around his neck, and weep.

“I don’t know what that means.”

“It means…hope isn’t an explanation. It’s a person.”

One of the many reasons I like Parrish’s style is how she writes close to the earth, with very little gloss over what it means to be human. And she knows her characters to the core, imbuing them with astonishing grace and depth and originality. The more I read of this novel, the  more I appreciated its title’s multi-faceted meaning, and when I turned the last page, I was satisfied.

Thanks to BookLook and Thomas Nelson for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: Though it didn’t take up a disproportionate amount of story-space, one of Still Life‘s underlying themes pushed all my buttons: religious abuse and the accompanying unholy dis-empowerment of women–which surely accounts for my strong emotional reaction to this novel. What are some themes you’ve recently encountered that have pushed your buttons?


Change How the Story Ends, #WaterEffect

Change how the story ends, #WaterEffectWhen our family traveled to Africa last summer, one of my bigger fears was that we would get sick from drinking the water. Plenty of moms would worry about this. Thousands of world travelers fall prey to water-borne illness every year, after all.

To protect our health, we got inoculated, carried bottled water, and avoided consuming anything of questionable source.

We all stayed healthy, thank God. But if one of us had gotten sick? Despite my mom worries, not a big deal—not really. At worst, one or more of us may have had to stay in bed for a day or two, close to the bathroom. If the situation was truly dire, we would have sought medical help. But ultimately, even in my worst case scenario, we would have been fine.

I didn’t worry that one of us might actually die.

But millions of moms around the world have no such assurance. Instead, they must face the fear that the water they bring into their homes might also bring down disaster. Imagine what it must be like for moms in developing countries, who–every time they watch their kids drink glass of water–must also worry that it could be the beginning of the end.

For them, the consequence of unclean water isn’t just an issue of inconvenience. It’s a matter of life or death.

In the developing world, more than half of the deaths of children under the age of five are related to illness caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation and hygiene. To put it another way, in some parts of the world, one child younger than five dies of diarrheal disease every minute. Every. Minute.

Which means that every 60 seconds, there is another mom mourning the loss of a beloved child, and her grief is heightened because the loss was so preventable.

Popular pastor and author Max Lucado visited Ethiopia a few years ago. Reflecting on that visit, he said, “I don’t think I realized [that water is a basic essential to life] until I visited some parts of the world that suffer from the lack of clean drinking water.”

Following their time in Africa, Max and his wife—who sponsor five children with World Vision—decided to partner with this humanitarian organization specifically to provide clean water to millions living in rural communities. Why? Because, he says, disease-free water not only brings new life and health to a community, it also demonstrates the love of Jesus—the Source of living water—and creates time and opportunities for conversations about the gospel.*

I love that.

This spring, World Vision is introducing a new drive called The Water Effect, which aims to bring clean water into the lives of Change How the Story Ends, #WaterEffectmillions around the world. Why water? Because it affects everything: health, education, economics, even hopes and dreams.

In short, giving a mom and her family clean water changes how their story ends.

How does it happen? It begins with you. For $25, you can give water to one person today. Or you can join me in sponsoring a child through World Vision. It’s something that costs very little–about a dollar a day, for one child. But knowing the hope it brings to another mom? The chance to change how her story ends?

Priceless.

After words: If you’d like to join me in becoming a part of this story-changing process, please click here. You might also like this 1-minute vid, in which Max Lucado shares a bit more of his story. Finally, if you’d like to learn more about how I became a child sponsor, click here.

*Source: “Wild About Water,” by Kristy J. O’Hara, World Vision magazine, Spring 2015, page 8.


Another Night, Another Day, book review

Another Night, Another Day, book reviewThe emotional story of a group of strangers who come together to heal, creating lifelong friendships along the way.

Another Night, Another Day by Sarah Rayner

About this book: (from the publisher) Three people, each crying out for help.There’s Karen, about to lose her father; Abby, whose son has autism and needs constant care, and Michael, a family man on the verge of bankruptcy. As each sinks under the strain, they’re brought together at Moreland’s Clinic. Here, behind closed doors, they reveal their deepest secrets, confront and console one another, and share plenty of laughs. But how will they cope when a new crisis strikes?

About the author: Sarah Rayner was born in London and now lives in Brighton with her husband and stepson. She worked for many years as an advertising copywriter and now writes fiction full time. Visit her online at www.thecreativepumpkin.co.uk.

Genre: Fiction/General

First impressions: From the cover and the hook beginning, I was tempted to grab my own cuppa and curl up with this one–not a bad choice, as it happens.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for profanity.

Reminds me of… The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble; The Family Way by Tony Parsons

Will especially appeal to… women who have struggled with anxiety and depression, or know someone who does.

This story matters because… it reminds us that being able to talk about our feelings is critical to our mental and emotional health. Isolation is a dangerous thing.

My take: I tend to enjoy novels that feature an ensemble cast, the kind where no main character plays a bigger role than any of the others. And yes, I did enjoy this one. My interest never flagged as the narrative rotated through each character’s story line, weaving in and out of the others’. I engaged with each character fairly equally (maybe with Michael least of all, but probably only because he was a man who really, really had a hard time opening up), and not once did I want to rush through one chapter to move onto the next.

I didn’t realize when I started reading that this novel would be about anxiety and depression, disorders that affect each of the characters to one degree or another. As one who has had a recent brush with both (they often come together, one leading to the other), I could appreciate the research and care that went into crafting the story around this theme–almost as if the author had been there herself. And what do you know, she has, as she acknowledges at book’s end. Another Night, Another Day was her way of shedding light on a commonly misunderstood–yet commonly felt–condition. Bravo. Reading her book was a kind of therapy in and of itself, and I often found myself nodding as I cheered the characters on toward healing.

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


Daniel Revisited, guest book review

Daniel Revisited, guest book reviewDiscover the Events Leading to the Antichrist as Revealed in Daniel.

Daniel Revisited: Discovering the Four Mideast Signs Leading to the Antichrist by Mark Davidson

About this book: Does the Bible have anything to say about the end times and the rise of the Antichrist prior to the Tribulation? Will the Antichrist rise from Rome or Islam? Are events happening currently in the Middle East spoken of in Scripture in any detail? Where are we on the end-times clock? The answers to these questions will astonish you.

Be prepared for a fresh look at Daniel and to have some old assumptions challenged as you join the journey of discovery. In Daniel Revisited: Discovering the Four Mideast Signs Leading to the Antichrist, author Mark Davidson shows how the ancient book of Daniel reveals secrets of the end times. Beginning with the premise that with a proper perspective on world history, the Bible clearly shows the Antichrist will be Muslim, he takes the reader on a journey of discovery. His new look at old assumptions about prophetic Scripture, and his careful study of relevant history and fresh-off-the-news current events astonishingly mesh with the ancient prophecies of Daniel. The Bible and history work together to reveal four major events preceding the Tribulation.

Davidson shows what has been taking place in the Middle East with Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Turkey is part of God’s plan fulfilling prophecy exactly as revealed in Daniel. Discover what must take place before the Tribulation Follow the four signs pointing to the Antichrist Learn why the Bible says the Antichrist will be Muslim. Understand more about the Four Horsemen of Revelation God has revealed in Daniel the times and seasons of his plan for the end times. Daniel Revisited provides encouragement, insight, warning, and revelation.

About the author: Mark Davidson (a pen name) has a master’s in engineering and works as a technical professional. As a student of history, biblical prophecy, geopolitics, and economics, Davidson combines careful scholarship of world history with insight into the prophetic Scriptures and the soon coming end times. Visit his blog at www.foursignposts.com.

Genre: Religion/Spirituality

Daniel Revisited, guest book review

Scott Jones, guest reviewer

Guest reviewer: Scott Jones’s interest in biblical studies began as an undergraduate at Washington State University. He enjoys playing guitar, hiking, biking, traveling, and reading on a wide variety of subjects. He works at Microsoft and lives in the Seattle area with his wife and two children.

Scott’s take: Daniel Revisited is a study of Biblical prophecies regarding end times.  Davidson offers an interpretation of three prophetic visions – two from Daniel and one from Revelation – set in a modern context and centered in the Islamic middle east.  The ultimate conclusion of his thesis is that the key events of end times will involve Islamic nations and that the Antichrist himself will be Islamic.  This is an idea that has gained much popularity in recent years, and Davidson is careful to give credit for the ideas of others which he builds upon.

I had a mixed reaction to this book.  On the one hand, the author asks the reader to suspend traditionally accepted interpretations of end-time prophecy, which he somewhat dismissively characterizes as “popular theology.” He casts aside centuries of established opinions that lean toward ancient fulfillment of some of the prophecies in Daniel, Revelation, and Ezekiel.  And he specifically refutes the association of end times and the Antichrist with Rome.  The author explains that this false interpretation is itself a prophetic fulfillment, that of sealing the words of Daniel until the end times.  While this is certainly possible, this reader was left a bit skeptical of the author’s “just so” explanations.  Not only that, but any such skepticism strengthens his theory, by further “sealing” the prophecies.  This in turn renders his argument impossible to lose.  Whether you agree or disagree with his thesis, you re-enforce it.  I’m leery of a theory that fails the falsifiability criterion like this.

Of somewhat lesser concern are the subtle biases one can see in this work.  These include “researcher’s bias,” which is the tendency to influence an experiment toward a desired outcome, and “anchoring bias,” which is relying too heavily on an initial piece of information to make a decision.  A good example is when the author realizes that former Iranian president Ahmadinejad must not be the “second horn” of prophecy, and so quickly revises his theory, substituting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as the second horn.  Here, it seems that the author may be too attached to his idea that end-time prophecy is connected with the Islamic realm, as well as to modern events.

On the other hand, the author establishes himself as a credible student of ancient history and a keen observer of current events.  It is clear that the author is also an ardent student of Bible and makes good use of his concordance.  The book’s material is thoroughly researched, footnoted, and indexed.  It is presented in a logical, coherent manner that makes the author’s case persuasively.  The author refers to several “unyielding” verses in Daniel which have been routinely ignored by interpreters for centuries.  These he examines carefully, leading inexorably to the Islamic conclusions.  I do not doubt the author’s intellectual honesty and rigor in developing his thesis.

In the end, if Davidson’s claims are true, it will not be long until they are validated.  He suggests that many, including himself by implication, believe that the Antichrist is alive on earth at this moment.  Time will tell.

Thanks to Veritas Communications and the author for providing Story Matters a free copy to review. 

After words: These days there’s no shortage of books about end times, including fiction. Novels by Joel Rosenberg and Jerry Jenkins come to  mind. For those who are interested in a fictionalized take on the subject–have you read anything by these authors or others you’d recommend?


The Magician’s Lie, book review

The Magician's Lie, book reviewA debut novel in which the country’s most notorious female illusionist stands accused of her husband’s murder – and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence.

The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister

About this book: (from the publisher) The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear.

But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless-and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free… and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.

About the author: (from her website) Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist whose work has appeared in publications such as The North American Review,  The Missouri Review, and The Messenger. Her plays have been performed at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. She lives with her family on the East Coast. Her debut novel THE MAGICIAN’S LIE was a weekly or monthly pick by Indie Next, LibraryReads, People Magazine, SheReads, PopSugar, Publishers Weekly, the Boston Globe, and Audible.com.

Genre: Fiction/Historical

Why I read this book: As a She Reads reviewer, I chose it (one of their four Books of Winter) because I was intrigued by its title, cover, and premise.

First impressions: Gorgeous, mysterious cover; compelling beginning.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for realistic violence and sexual relationships.

Reminds me of…The Magician’s Assistant (contemporary women’s fiction) by Ann Patchett

My take: This was one of those novels that released to a great deal of fanfare and rave reviews, which can do very good things for a book, but has a downside: it sets expectations very, very high. Mine certainly were. Things got off to a promising start, with a ripping good lead-in to the story. I liked the story embedded within the story, and the “ticking clock” set-up. It certainly lent Arden’s tale, as it unfolded, a sense of urgency.

But then my interest waned. There was something lacking, that nearly indefinable something that either makes or breaks a reader’s experience. As near as I can identify it, it was the style, which felt too telling in the flashback scenes. This may have been because there was so much ground to cover in so little time (it makes up the bulk of the book). I enjoyed the “real-time” scenes between Arden and Virgil much more. Then too, the characters, especially the villain, felt a shade too one-dimensional, and some of his story a little too horrific. I did, however, like the complexity of Arden’s character, and Virgil’s, and the way his own history was gradually revealed (and which also provided some unexpected twists).

So in the end, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as hoped, but I did find it an interesting idea, and I liked the exploration of magic as a profession at the turn of the last century. Many will find it a worthwhile read for that reason alone.

Thanks to She Reads and Sourcebooks for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: See what other She Reads reviewers are saying here. You can also read the author’s thoughts here on the three kinds of magic she explores in The Magician’s Lie.

One more thing. I can’t leave this book without commenting on the cover. I know, I sometimes seem fixated on covers, but they’re an important part of the reading experience, especially as a first impression. As I mentioned earlier, I really liked this cover; it was part of what drew me to this book. But here’s what’s weird: the arm attached to the hand holding the dove? It’s dark-skinned (in marked contrast to the hand, even), and there are no dark-skinned main characters in this book. It’s certainly not the Amazing Arden, who is described as quite fair. So I’m baffled as to why the publisher used this image here. Not that you’ll have an explanation, but thoughts, anyone?


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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:

Surprise
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?