Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Review: Healing Sands

This was yet another great book in the Sullivan Crisp series by Nancy Rue and Stephen Arterburn. They make a great team of writers and I am hoping there will be another book in this series.

In Healing Sands, Ryan Coe is a divorced photo-journalist trying to reconnect with her sons after a year's absence on a project in Africa. With her ex-husband in the arms of another woman and her oldest son shutting her out, her life oozes bitterness and anger. It certainly doesn't make things any easier when she discovers her own son on the other end of the lens as she is shooting a crime scene. In the midst of her drive to find the truth and clear her son, Ryan finally realizes that she needs some help in dealing with her internal rage.

This was another plot line that just kept me turning page after page. While Ryan is chasing clues to unravel the crime her son stands accused of, Sullivan Crisp is chasing clues to the whereabouts of the woman who gave his deceased wife such bad counsel.

I would say that I figured things out well in advance of the climactic conclusion. Plus, I felt that the character of Ginger (the ex-husband's new interest) could have been fleshed out more. If she had been given a few sympathetic traits, then I might not have struggled to believe that she would be his replacement choice. However, she was a peripheral character and the main character was very well drawn.

All three of the books in this series offered realistic modern struggles of life coupled with solid counsel and a demonstration of how God can heal our woundedness. And really, who doesn't have woundedness and need healing? I know I certainly do!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Big Splash

It is that time of year again ... the time when my little boys go for swimming lessons. Last year, every single class was excruciating because Sean was so fearful of the water. He dreaded going and begged me to let him stay home.

This year, we pulled into the parking lot and Sean recognized the location and said, "Oh no! I didn't think we were coming back to THIS place. I don't want to go." Thankfully, by the end of the first lesson his whole outlook changed. He has loved going every time.

Today the students all lined up to jump from the diving boards. I had to bust a gut laughing at Sean. The adorable little girl in front of him was hesitant to jump (when they were practicing jumping from the side). The instructor would call out "3-2-1- Jump!" and the girl would swing her arms and bend her knees, like she was trying to work up the gumption to jump. Over and over this went on, and Sean stood behind her with his little hand on her back, telling her "Come on, come on. Come on! COME ON!" In my head I was praying that he wouldn't push the sweet thing in.

After the class was over, the little girl's grandmother spoke up to me, saying, "Your little guy was quite a jumper!"

I explained the thoughts going through my mind as her granddaughter was avoiding the task. She chuckled and said, "And I was thinking in my head ... Go on ... give her a push!" We both had a good laugh at that!

Here he is, jumping with exuberance:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book Review: The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime

There was a time when my passion was reading about Victorian culture and history. My favorite author in high school and college was Charles Dickens. I wrote an endless number of papers for various classes using Charles Dickens' life and books as the main topic. One of my favorite memories from graduate school was the time spent doing fascinating research for a paper on five Victorian crime cases. But, in the past ten years, my reading tastes have shifted and I tend to look for books that are currently popular.

I don't think I would have sought out this particular book, but when I saw it on the shelf of recent acquisitions at our library, I felt compelled to dip my toes back into the kind of reading that used to thrill me. Although, I don't want to shift back to my old reading tendencies, it was fun to read stories of Victorian crime again.

In The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime, Michael Sims has edited a small collection of stories featuring fictional crime-solving females. A few of the stories felt incomplete (they were mere portions and this made it difficult to fully absorb the story), but most were fairly riveting and satisfying.

In the first story, by W.S. Hayward, I was reminded of how seldom modern fiction tends to stretch my vocabulary. Hayward's story was full of beautiful words I know but seldom encounter (like: sanguine, sagacity, pernicious and fallacious) and other words that were entirely new (like: relict, epicier, ingots, sinacurists, culverin and the phrase "musipular abortion"- whatever that means).

I think my favorite was "The Long Arm," written by Mary E. Wilkins. This tale followed a woman who was suspected of murdering her own father. She unravels the mystery one clue at a time. "That Affair Next Door," by Anna Katherine Green, was entertaining but it left off without really coming close to solving the crime.

Although this book might not be every reader's "cup of tea," I found it fun to try an old flavor again.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review: The Double Comfort Safari Club

I guess you could say I am on an Alexander McCall Smith reading jag these days. I am presently listening to the 12th book in the Number One Ladies' Detective Agency series and reading one of the Isabel Dalhousie series. As a result, my memory of The Double Comfort Safari Club is not as clear as I would like. Thus, I'm going to beg the easy way out on this review and simply copy and paste the words from the fine BookList review by Allison Block:

"New challenges and an exciting adventure await Botswana lady detective Precious Ramotswe in this eleventh entry in the much-beloved series. As usual, there are multiple plot lines. There’s Mma Mateleke, who suspects her husband of being unfaithful (turns out, he harbors the same suspicions about her). Mr. Kereleng falls prey to the wiles of Violet Sephotho, who manipulated him into putting his house in her name. (Readers will remember Violet as the conniving classmate of Mma Makutsi at the Botswana Secretarial College, where Mma Makutsi earned an impressive 97 percent.) Mma Makutsi copes with bad news about her fiancĂ©, Phuti Radiphuti, who undergoes a serious leg operation following an accident at his furniture store. A more pleasant assignment involves the search for a kindhearted safari guide, who was bequeathed a nice sum of money by an American tourist. This brings the two ladies to the stunning Okavango Delta, positively fraught with feral creatures. With snakes in abundance, proper footwear is a must, much to the delight of Mma Makutsi, who has a well-known weakness for new shoes. As always, wrongs are righted and all is resolved, thanks to the wit and wisdom of these two shrewd Mmas. Even after nearly a dozen installments, McCall Smith manages to keep his series engaging and fresh. Expect much demand: the release of a new No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novel is always cause for celebration among the author’s many fans."

As for me, all I can add is that it truly feels as if Mma Ramotswe really does exist and Alexander McCall Smith is merely following her exploits and jotting them down for the world at large to see and enjoy. He is a master at creating a community of characters who meet ongoing conflicts and weave truths about life in their daily struggles and triumphs.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review: Grounded

I am a huge fan of books by Kate and Sarah Klise. They always deliver funny, punny books sure to amuse young readers. Thus, I was thrilled when I happened to notice a new Kate Klise book at the library. Just reading the back cover should have prepared me though, because this, while both funny and punny in spots, is clearly a more serious novel.

Grounded, tells the tale of 12 year old Daralynn Oakland, who is only alive because she was grounded. Otherwise, she would have been in the plane with her father, older brother and little sister, when it fell from the sky. Instead, she is grounded in her house with her mother, who cannot cry, and 237 dolls, foisted on her in sympathy.

While the beginning details of the novel were clearly realistic (the girl is nicknamed Dolly, though she doesn't even like dolls; her life falls into two categories - BC, before the crash and AD, after the deaths; her mother is styling hair at the funeral home to help meet expenses), I just couldn't get into it for some reason. I don't know. It felt stilted ... forced. Although it flowed, it didn't fully engage.

By page 100, I felt more connected to the main character and began to appreciate the novel as fully as I had expected. I loved how Klise used the double meaning of the word grounded. On the one hand, misbehavior caused Daralynn to be grounded and, thus, still among the living. But, on the other hand, her very existence serves to keep her mother grounded when so much of life is up in the air and out of control.

My final impressions of the book were entirely positive. This would be a great novel to suggest to a young person dealing with grief or loss. While treating the truly painful aspects of the grieving process, it provides humor and poignant truth.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Introducing: My Son's Blog

Trevor has been begging for his own blog for quite some time now. We began working on it over Spring Break and finally put the polishing touches on his first post. It is a representation of one of the many books he has created. This one was created shortly after his trip with Daddy to see the I-Max presentation of "Sea Rex."

It may just be another blog in the blogosphere to some, but it is my own kindergarten son's expression of creativity, so to me it is a MIGHTY FINE BLOG! Go check it out at

A future post will contain photos of his first cake decoration (in celebration of his 6-1/2 birthday). Now, he's asking to have his blog appear on our favorites bar. I think I've created a monster (no pun intended)!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Book Review: Heaven is for Real

I'm a sucker for a cute little blond boy! Thus, when my husband called me over to the computer to read some news blurb about a book featuring an adorable little boy who tells of visiting heaven for a few minutes during a life-threatening surgery, I took note. Not long after, I found myself in a bookstore where the book was on sale. There is a hold line 20 people long waiting for this book from my library's holding, so I snatched it up. Frankly, I cannot wait to pass it on (first, to my mother).

Todd Burpo is a pastor at a small rural church in Nebraska. In his book, Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, he shares the family's pain and anxiety as their three year old son, Colton, battled what was misdiagnosed as a severe case of the flu. Indeed, the pint sized cutie (who graces the cover) had actually suffered a ruptured appendix.

Several months after this harrowing event took place (involving an emergency appendectomy and a thirteen day hospital stay), Colton began to speak of his trip to heaven. The details this little boy offered up not only supported what Scripture says about heaven, but also gave personal encouragement to his family (information on other loved ones he encountered and God's sending of strength to Colton's parents as he struggled). The book is a quick, compelling read, but it provides a glimpse few of us have been privileged to receive of the splendor that awaits in heaven for those who are "called according to His purpose." It also reminds us that there is a very real spiritual warfare going on in our midst that we are often oblivious to because it is occurring on a plane we cannot observe while in our earthly bodies.

I believe I responded most significantly to the story Colton gives of encountering his "other sister." At the time, his parents had never informed him of the miscarried baby between Cassie's and Colton's births. Yet, Colton assured his mother that his nameless sister has been adopted by God himself. Anyone who has lost a child will continue to think about them. I found it so reassuring to think of my own miscarried baby being adopted by God the Father in Heaven and anxiously awaiting our reunion.

I think what surprised me the most, upon reading this book and then several reviews listed on the Amazon website, was the general skepticism people carry regarding the actual existence of heaven. Todd Burpo himself writes of his own skepticism when hearing Colton's responses. Several pastors reviewing the book claimed skepticism at the outset. Others, denouncing the idea of Christianity considered it to be an entertaining "novel." I found myself thinking, "People will swallow hook-line-and-sinker the theory that we evolved from an ape and yet they cannot entertain the idea that there is a parallel spiritual dimension in which great battles are ensuing and leading to a final confrontation between heaven and hell."

As for me, I believe ... Heaven IS for REAL!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Book Review: The Ride of Our Lives

When I was growing up, my family took trips. We all bundled into our little station wagon with a cooler full of sandwiches and a giant thermos of kool-aid (now I say "yuck" - back then, it was "yum"). I remember my father driving all through the night and the four of us kids (at the time, my youngest brother hadn't been born yet, so I was under 10) would sleep on a mattress in the back.

Later, my parents purchased a small camper. In order to accommodate all five of us kids at that point, my dad rigged up an extra bunk from a piece of plywood. Talk about claustrophobic! Try being the kid who had to sleep on the inside of that small added space!

We would drive around the United States, experiencing the world around us. We went to the Grand Canyon; Salt Lake City, Utah; California and a trip to Disney Land; two separate trips to Disney World (the latter trip when my youngest brother was only one and he remarkably lasted the whole day - of course, he was a remarkable kid all around when it came to deportment, so we shouldn't have been surprised!).

When he visits, my dad will sometimes pull out video footage of those trips. He has transferred them to DVD by recording while playing from the 8 mm reel to reel. This has the added benefit of background discussions between my parents which are totally unrelated to what is going on on-screen. Their banter is almost as fun as watching those images of our smaller selves dancing across the screen.

In my mind, those were some of the most wonderful times I know. I have fostered a pipe dream of purchasing an RV just so I can attempt to replicate such experiences for my boys. They all know when we pass an RV or camper for sale, that I will make some sort of wistful comment. Usually, my husband, whose family only took one vacation in his entire lifetime, and who actually loathes travel, will try to bring things back into focus and shine a light on reality by reminding me that I cannot even make it through a day at home with my brood of boisterous boys. How would I ever manage a trip in an RV, in tight quarters with rambunctious boys?

Indeed, I mentioned my secret dream to a co-worker once and she detailed her own horror story of RV proportions. Her husband had the grand idea that they rent an RV and take a vacation to Disney World. She said it was the hardest vacation she ever endured. Everyone else played and enjoyed the sights and she was in charge of keeping the children in line and preparing enough food to feed the army that was her own family, plus her in-laws. She swore she would never attempt an RV vacation again.

I'm not easily dissuaded, though. In my mind, the pipe dream lives on!

Thus, I was stoked when I snagged Mike Leonard's book, The Ride of Our Lives, at the library book shop. I think he's on to a smart adjustment to the RV pipe dream, in that he waited to take this trip when his parents were in their late eighties and his children were grown. It made for an interesting trip and a delightful journey.

Mike Leonard's parents were in need of some encouragement and their first great-grandchild was due, so Mike rented two RV's and headed off with his three grown children and his comical parents (comical because they are the yin and yang of life - one up-beat and optimistic, talking to every willing ear, and the other pessimistic, convinced that something will go wrong). They made a cross-country trip, visiting historical landmarks and old stomping grounds.

The book focuses on far more than the RV trip, however (indeed, he didn't really offer up any advice about making such a trip a success). Much of the book chronicles the lives of his parents, the hardships they have endured and the bonds that draw them close. Between stories that make you want to read them aloud to any one nearby (like the one about Mike's father sending the grandmother's engagement ring with an unknown flight attendant), there are stories that bring tears to your eyes (disappointment in returning to the cemetery, but never finding the gravestone for Mike's older sister, Anne, who died at birth).

I also enjoyed the brief DVD included in the book. It contained four segments aired on the Today Show about Mike's cross-country trip with his parents. It was, as Amy Dickerson declared on the back of the book: "as touching and whimsical as a series of home movies."

Monday, April 4, 2011

Book Review: Healing Stones

In general, I like to read series books in the order they are written. However, when I picked up Healing Waters, I did so based on the appealing cover alone. After reading the blurb on the back, I discovered that it was a "Sullivan Crisp" novel. I do wish that I had read them in order. My knowledge of Sullivan Crisp's background was already intact prior to the introduction of his difficulties in this first book.

There are many similarities between the two first books of the Sullivan Crisp series. Like Healing Waters, this first book, Healing Stones, did not present the Christian world as a cheery place where everyone always agrees with each other. Indeed, the Christian college where the main character has worked is rife with political unrest. I appreciate the avoidance of sugar-coating. Both books also present flawed individuals who must face their own inner demons in order to find a place of healing.

I had a more difficult time accepting this book, Healing Stones. I'm guessing it is because the book's main character, Demetria Costanas, is a Christian college professor caught in the throes (or the exit, as she would assert) of an adulterous relationship. It isn't that I don't believe people in such a position could fall prey to the sin of adultery. It was more the presentation of a character consumed by this sin yet unwilling to recognize any mitigating factors which might have led her down that road.

I guess I just didn't buy the idea that both she and her husband would place all of the blame squarely on her shoulders alone. My inner gut said that anyone whose spouse turns to someone else, has a knee-jerk reaction of self-assessment (asking where they themselves had failed to meet the other's needs). I was also uncomfortable with the son's reaction. He steps up to shield his family from the mother's "wickedness." I found this difficult to accept as well. My willful suspension of disbelief was certainly taxed.

Having said that, however, I still must assert that this was a good, engaging, and thought-provoking book. It held my interest throughout (couldn't put it down - trite as that always sounds). Moreover, the premise of the book was a useful one. So often, we do stand ready to cast the first stones over our failures and short-comings. Satan would like nothing more than to immobilize us when we fall. God stands ready to forgive, yet we hang on to our self-loathing.

I'll look forward to reading the third in this series, titled Healing Sands. After all, who couldn't use even a little more healing in life?