Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review: Fudge Cupcake Murder

The fifth book in the Hannah Swensen mystery series, Fudge Cupcake Murder, is everything readers have come to expect from Joanne Fluke's trademark style. Pairing delectable baked good recipes with tales of murder and mystery, this book continues the story of Hannah's life with predictable flair. Lake Eden, Minnesota, must be grateful for the baking expertise and intuitive crime-solving abilities of The Cookie Jar owner, Hannah.

Hannah is hard at work compiling a group of recipes for a Lake Eden cookbook and trying to determine the mystery ingredient for a special fudge cupcake recipe. She happens upon the body of Sheriff Grant in a dumpster and must ferret through the evidence to determine who has offed the disliked sheriff. Of course, there is danger the closer she gets to finding the killer.

Hannah still can't seem to decide between her dual love interests, Norman and Mike. Her sister is close to having her second child. Moreover, her mother is being pursued by an unknown man, whom they fear is a con man. I find the advancing story line of her life equally fascinating as the murder mystery elements. I will happily seek out the next installment in this series. While they are not very literary fare, they are entertaining, whimsical and light-hearted fun.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: Dancing with My Father

Being a mother of boys, I have subscribed to the posts provided by the MOB Society (about mothering boys within a Christian framework). I often see Sally Clarkson's contributions. Thus, when my mother-in-law passed on a pile of books to sell to the Half-Price Bookstore, I quietly pulled out this book by Clarkson to read for myself. It wasn't a book I sought out. Just one I happened upon.

I will admit that I really skimmed this book. I read it in the space of one day and didn't take time to answer the interactive questions presented at the end of every chapter. The subtitle tells the intent of the book: How God Leads Us into a Life of Grace and Joy. Really, joy was at the heart of this book. And who couldn't use more joy? Sally Clarkson went on a mission to live a more joy-filled life throughout her Christian walk. She realized that often the daily grind of being a Christian in a fallen world takes its toll and leaves a person merely coasting along, doing what seems to be required. All of us would want to strive for something more than that, no doubt.

Clarkson shares personal stories (my favorite part of the book) of her journey towards a more joy-filled life. She outlines things which can stand in the way of living with joy. While it didn't provide any startling discoveries for me, it was a good book to digest in a short amount of time. It would be a perfect read for someone who is feeling empty in their Christian walk and longing for more of the joy of the Lord to translate into their daily existence.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Review: Speaking From Among the Bones

I made the mistake of picking up the sixth installment of the Flavia de Luce novels at the library before securing this fifth installment, Speaking From Among the Bones. Even though I intended to read them in order, I couldn't help but peek at the description on the back cover for the sixth book. In doing so, I rendered the most suspenseful and shocking part of this fifth book null and void. What a shame! Thus, I will try to share some details of this book without giving away the big shocker at the end. Suffice it to say, the cliff-hanger ending will leave devoted readers of the Flavia de Luce novels anxious to get their hands on the sixth.

Once again, Flavia de Luce is knee-deep in murder and determined to investigate right alongside the trained detectives. Her keen powers of observation take her along the road to solving the murder long before the detectives have pieced together the puzzle. This time around, Flavia finds the body of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist. The community is abuzz with the news of the intended opening of St. Tancred's tomb, in celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of his death. No one expects to find a different body, shrouded with a gas mask, on top of the sarcophagus. Flavia goes to desperate lengths, even crawling along a tunnel from one grave into the underside of the church, to unearth bits of evidence. As she racks up one clue after the next, she is also dealing with the engagement of her sister, Ophelia, and the possible loss of her cherished home, Buckshaw.

Author Alan Bradley has come up with a quite likeable character in eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce. With her love of chemistry, and specifically poisons, and her intrepid manner of scouting out the clues, she is sure to dazzle the reader with her spunk and intelligence. These novels are entertaining and delightful. The chase is on to solve the crime and you know already that Flavia will have a tremendous hand in ferreting it all out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Bit Down Despite the Anticipation of Good Things

I am looking forward to leaving for Central Bible & Leadership Institute this weekend. I am! But, I'm feeling a bit down about it as well. We had planned to drop Sean off at his grandma's house and then Trevor and I would drive on to DeKalb for a brief visit with our good friends, the Olsen family, before heading to the camp on Saturday morning. Now, plans have changed and I'm feeling depressed about the whole thing.

Grandma called on Sunday night to say that she didn't think she could keep Sean after all. Her knee (which is in sore need of a further replacement surgery) has been excruciatingly painful of late. She came over to see her Indiana doctor concerning it, but he couldn't get her in for surgery until September. I feel bad for her that she is in pain and I fully understand her backing out, but I am reeling with sadness over the loss of my vision of what this CBLI would have been like. Since it was supposed to only be Trevor and me, I was going to be able to leave him for his free time and have the entire afternoons to myself (allowing me to be in the brass band for the first time and allowing me to read and write to my heart's content every afternoon). Yes, my feelings are based in complete selfishness.

Thankfully, the camp is willing to allow Sean to join us after all. They couldn't alter the housing arrangements, so he will be sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag (I think he thinks he's going to climb in the twin bed with me). Plus, we weren't given the housing assignment we requested (things were very tight this year and there must be a huge number coming), so we are in a small private room with shared bath facilities. This means that the boys will have to go down the hall and use the men's room by themselves for their showers and other bathroom needs. I'm a bit worried that Sean, at seven, will not be able to fully handle that.

Still, I'm relieved that the boys have taken the changes so well. I was worried Sean would be upset about going and, equally worried, that Trevor would be very upset because it was no longer his private little experience with Mom. They both seem to have adjusted to the idea. It is only me dragging my heels and feeling discouraged. They are excited because the annual field trip for the Jr. CBLI track is going to be to a trampoline park this year (yikes - now I'm worried about injury).

My sadness is also streaming up from another place within. One of my friends in The Salvation Army, Steve, just lost his battle with cancer and has gone to be with the Lord. If you could see all the messages, condolences and remembrances, photos and stories, being posted on the Facebook feed, you would know just how vast an impact he made during his forty-some years on this earth. He was a humble man and always there with a good word. He poured his life into drawing people closer to the Lord. He ministered in Haiti, where he married a Haitian woman and went on to have one son, who is now about six years old (how I pray for his wife and son as they go on without him). I was able to hear him preach during the CMI alumni event five years ago and I remember his message stirring my soul. We are all (those of us in the Central Territory of The Salvation Army, who knew him) reeling with the loss of this fine, effective young man. God used his life in a mighty way, but for reasons unknown to us decided to call him home.

When I was in college, his parents blessed me immensely by taking me into their home every Sunday. I would catch a ride to the corps with a professor from Wheaton College and then go home with the Diaz family for lunch and to spend an afternoon studying. They then gave me dinner and returned me to the corps for the evening meeting, where I caught a ride with the same professor back to campus again. His parents were such godly, generous people. I smile when I think about the fact that Steve is being reunited with his parents (who have both already passed away) and being embraced by the arms of God. So, here again, even though there is good (what could be better than grasping eternity with the Saviour) it is mingled with sadness for the loss we feel here on earth.

Seeing all the accolades and expressions of grief has also caused me to take a step back and look at my own life. It causes one to ask whether the life you are living is making as big an impact as this other life has. How would I be remembered when I pass on? So, there is a sense of frustration that my life has such little impact in the face of things. Here I sit at my little kitchen table with a keyboard and very little else to show for my time (apart from the raising of some feisty boys). I don't know how to remedy that, only that I wish my life counted for even half as much as Steve's. I suppose the thing is to give it back to the Lord and ask Him to make of my life what he wishes. After all, He is the one who has led me into this isolated existence here in Indiana, and He is the only one who could take whatever I have to offer and turn it into anything of value. As I've said before, my job is just to show up.

I'm pretty sure my blog will fall into dead air for the next week or so while I'm gone. I haven't been reading as much lately and I don't know what kind of reception for wifi I will have when I am at camp. If my only reception is during meetings and classes, then that really doesn't help at all. Know that I intend to resume regular posting once I return in early August. I pray that it will be a spiritually enriching experience for both myself and my boys. I pray that all the glitches will work themselves out smoothly and that my own emotions will allow for enjoyment. We are blessed to have this opportunity, no matter what form it comes in.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Book Review: Slated

What if the government were able to erase your memory of who you are and attempt to make you into a peaceable, law-abiding citizen by placing a controlling device on your wrist which monitors your emotions and threatens death if you allow it to fall into the danger zone? What if, somehow, the erasure wasn't entirely successful  and the device fails to respond to dangerous emotions like anger? What if you discovered a past you didn't remember having and had to determine whether you should attempt to get back the past or run from it? These are the premises driving the Slated trilogy by author Teri Terry.

While these ideas were interesting to contemplate, I wasn't entirely sucked into the story. I'm not sure why, but it seemed off at arm's length throughout my entire reading. I didn't fall in love with any of the characters. The love interest angle didn't really grip me. The evil, while menacing, didn't make me shake in my boots. Perhaps I'm just not that into dystopian novels. It received plenty of positive reviews from others. Now I have to decide for myself whether I will continue to pursue these books (my library only has the second, but not the third, available). I'm just not sure. The first book did end with a cliff-hanger, making the reader want to know what happened to Kyla's love interest, Ben. Even still, I'm not sure I'm hooked enough to seek out the rest of the trilogy.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book Review: Tallgrass

Sandra Dallas' book, Tallgrass, is the story of a young girl whose life is turned upside down by the influx of Japanese Americans shipped to an internment camp not far from her during World War II. It is a historical novel, telling of a time when racism against the perceived enemy was rampant. By nature of their background, the Japanese Americans are viewed with skepticism and considered possible spies, despite being every bit as American as the next guy.

Thirteen year old Rennie Stroud is proud of her father, who willingly hires Japanese boys from the internment camp to help work his beet farm while his son is off fighting in the war, but doesn't know quite what to make of the racial tensions. In a town never very familiar with crime, Rennie's quiet, crippled friend is raped and murdered. Suspicions naturally fall upon the newcomers, the Japanese. As the story unfolds, Rennie learns that things are not always cut and dry and secrets linger which alter perceptions of reality.

I enjoyed listening to this book in audio form. It was an interesting tale, full of both good and bad-natured individuals. I loved Rennie's family and their interactions with the town folk (her mother with "the Jolly Stitchers," her quilting circle, and the father both with his hired hands and with others in the town who were unsympathetic to his position towards the Japanese). I appreciated the exploration of human nature. I loved that the tale was told from the perspective of a young girl desperate to feel more grown up. I grew to love the characters and wanted to know how things were going to turn out for all of them. I was also pleased to be able to listen to a brief interview with the author at the end of the audio presentation. I would recommend this book if you are interested in historical fiction about racism during World War II or if you are merely interested in a human interest tale of family life in a troubled world where things grow more complicated.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dirty Car Artist

Scott Wade takes his skills to the backs of cars. I was surprised to learn that he actually cleans the cars first, so that the dirt will be even when it is applied. He has some amazing masterpieces. You can visit his website here or view this You Tube video of his work in action: