Sunday, February 28, 2016

Ouchie-Vespouchie

Ouchie-Vespouchie! Don't ask me where that saying came from, but I was yelling that and plenty more on Friday when I stubbed my toe smack into the door. I had placed a small pizza in the oven for Trevor's after-school snack and forgotten to set the timer. When John called out from the kitchen to ask about it, I jumped up far too quickly and with dogged determination headed out of Bryce's room (where I tend to work during the week on my novel revision). The pain was searing! I'm still not sure whether it is broken or not. I'm fine as long as I keep it still.

(For the story on why I have no toenail on the big toe, click here.)

My poor traumatized feet! Being the pain-avoidant person that I am, I am dreading a possible visit to the doctor if it doesn't improve by Monday. Even the thought of having it splinted to the neighboring toe makes me wince. Several years back, I went to the podiatrist for a toe injury to my littlest toe (having stubbed it on the bottom of our table leg). I seem to recall that there is not much they can do for broken toes.

Of course, this is no help to my efforts to drop ten to twenty pounds. When I walk on the treadmill now, I can manage as long as I reduce the speed to 3 miles per hour (I usually do 3.5) and walk with a bit of a hobble to avoid putting my full weight on that middle toe. I am determined not to slack off on the exercise. If it were only for desired weight gain, I would take a few days off, but it feels far more serious than that.

When I went for a follow-up appointment on my antidepressant meds, the doctor this time requested a fasting lipid test. Seven years ago, I had been placed on a statin for high cholesterol, but had taken myself off the medicine because I simply didn't like the idea of long-term statin use. I promised to keep control of it with diet, but in the past year those efforts have gone by the wayside and I've put on several pounds (thus the non-fitting rings). Now, in fear of the imminent test, I have set a goal of losing the weight before I go to fill the lab order (hopefully, the doctor will be willing to wait for the results for over a month). What a disappointment to have to reduce my mileage and calorie burn level on the treadmill work! Hopefully, the toe will heal and I can get back to my 3 mile walks at 3.5 mph soon.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Book Review: The House at Tyneford

After finishing Natasha Solomons' incredible book, The Song of Hartgrove Hall, I attempted two other books (Story Trumps Structure, and The Bronte Plot) but could not get into them enough to continue for the moment because I was desperate to return to the world Solomons created in her most recent book. So, I dashed off to the library and picked up an earlier book of hers called The House at Tyneford. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the Hartgrove Hall book, but still thrilled in the author's awesome word choice and lyrical writing.

Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau is a Jewess leaving her home of Vienna, in 1938, bound for a domestic position at Tyneford, a country estate in England, in order to avoid the coming persecution. Even though she agrees to a one-year term, she is hoping that she will be able to join her parents and sister and brother-in-law, who are all attempting to emigrate to the United States. Elise has a hard time of it because she is a cultured Austrian living in a servant position, brought to England by a manor lord who was charmed by her advertisement offering to cook a goose. When the manor lord's son returns home, he is determined to assist Elise in advancing her command of the English language. Their relationship pushes Elise's identity crisis even further and threatens to change life in the house altogether.

I cannot help echoing the words of praise offered in the inside front cover:

"Natasha Solomons has written a lovely, atmospheric novel full of charming characters and good, old-fashioned storytelling. Fans of Downton Abbey and Kate Morton ... will absolutely adore The House at Tyneford." - Kristin Hannah

"The House at Tyneford is a wonderful, old-fashioned novel that takes you back in time to the manor homes, aristocracy, and domestic servants of England. In this setting, Natasha Solomons gives us a courageous heroine whose incredible love story will keep you in suspense until the final page." - Kathleen Grissom

It was a lovely love story (if a bit predictable) and the writing was, again, magical. While this book has its own share of devotion to music and books (Elise's mother is a gifted singer, her father a noted author, and her sister a talented violist), it wasn't quite the emphatic love song to music that I enjoyed in The Song of Hartgrove Hall. Still, the writing was extremely good and I couldn't help but be swept thoroughly into the telling of the story. This author's books will appeal to individuals who are smitten with English culture, and especially country estates, those who enjoy music, and anyone who is looking for a riveting love story. This particular book was cleaner than the previously read one (no adultery, no drug use), so if that is an important criteria, I would suggest reading this one first.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Book Review: The Inn at Rose Harbor

After listening to the fourth installment of this series, I thought I should go back to the beginning and start again. Thankfully, it seems like each installment works perfectly fine as a stand-alone novel, but I still prefer to go at things in order. I was not disappointed with this audio book.

Jo Marie Rose is opening The Rose Harbor Inn, a Cedar Cove bed-and-breakfast establishment, after the death of her military husband. She feels he has promised her that the venture will bring healing to herself and to all who come within the walls of the Rose Harbor Inn. As in the other installment, Jo Marie welcomes two guests for a stay at the inn. Josh Weaver is returning to Cedar Cove to place his bitter and recalcitrant step-father on hospice. Abby Kincaid is returning to attend her brother's wedding after many years of absence from the town.

Both Josh and Abby are in desperate need of forgiveness and reconciliation. Josh harbors deep resentment towards the step-father who threw him out, as a teenager, shortly after his mother's death. The old man seems none too happy to see Josh return and fights his intervention with all the strength he can muster. Meanwhile, Abby has lived in a world of pain and regret, ever since an auto accident took the life of her best friend, Angela, while she was at the wheel. Unable to forgive herself and sure that others still harbor resentment towards her, Abby is dreading the visit to Cedar Cove. The burden she carries is heavy and she is worried it will all be too overwhelming to return.

The novel is full of themes of forgiveness, healing, and redemption. The inn works its wonders and lives are changed. The characters are deeply wounded, yet refreshingly believable. The plot moves at a good pace and the resolution is satisfying. I will be searching out the rest of the series as it makes for such a good accompaniment to my morning walks.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Book Review: The Song of Hartgrove Hall

Oh, how close I came to rating this a book I highly recommend. I absolutely loved The Song of Hartgrove Hall (so much so that I dashed off a quick message to the author and sent it to her via Facebook, only to discover that Facebook won't deliver the message unless we're friends - ah well, I tried)! I relished every moment of the read and when it was over, wished I could experience it all over again for the first time. The writing was simply lyrical. I love books that are love songs to books. But, in this case, this book was a love song to music and it brought up so many emotions and memories within me of special musical moments in my own life. It tapped into that deep and abiding love of music, the stirring of the soul when music is performed well. The book itself read like a symphony.

Hartgrove Hall is falling down. The book begins with the return of three brothers to their family home of Hartgrove Hall after the war. And so the author begins to weave a story of familial bonds and place and home. Harry Fox-Talbot tells his tale in alternating narrations going from past to present and back again (reminiscent of Kate Morton's style). He tells of his relationships with his brothers and father in the past. He tells of his relationships with his children and grandchildren in the present (or close to it, anyway - right at the turn of the century). Both time periods reveal the depth of his character.

The young Harry Fox-Talbot is a budding composer in love with his brother's girl, Edie Rose. England is enthralled with Edie Rose's voice and Harry is no stranger to the lure of her charms. The older Harry, a recently widowed man, recognizes the impressive natural talent of his young grandson, Robin, a piano prodigy. As we learn of Robin's progress and Harry's tender nurture of his talent, we also learn of Harry's secrets and his past. It felt like viewing a kaleidoscope of various colors coming into focus at different times.

I was intrigued by the point of view chosen for the novel. Natasha Solomons chose to narrate the past sections in first person present tense and the modern portions in first person past tense. In doing so, she has given the past a more present feel and allowed us to view the present with a bit of detachment. I felt it was a remarkably good call.

The characters were rendered so well that they felt like living breathing beings. Moreover, the places simply sprang to life in the reader's eye. Solomons captured the characters and setting with such clear vision that you feel you are there with them. I could hear the music in my mind as I read of the symphonies and piano music played.

Another aspect of the book that I fully appreciated was the author's fine use of simile and metaphor. Some authors strain at these devices and you can tell that the effort is forced. This author's use felt thoroughly naturally and fresh and apt. Here are a few brilliant examples:

"If grief is the thug who punches you in the gut, then loneliness is his goon who holds back your arms and renders you helpless before the onslaught."

"My memories of Edie were like dandelion clocks in the wind, winnowing in every direction. I'd lost all chronology. I missed every Edie at once. The young and terribly glamorous woman I'd met after the war..."

"When I sit down to play, a dozen keys ping off as my fingers touch them and spray onto the floor like an old woman spitting out a mouthful of loose teeth."

"They're not really a choir: four large men piped like sausage meat into straining woolen suits."

I found myself right alongside the narrator contemplating the challenges of nurturing a young prodigy, the difficulties of regaining composing talents after such a significant loss, and the strain of coveting your sibling's spouse, The music bits were like candy to a person on a diet. I couldn't get enough of it. Here's another beautiful passage that so thoroughly captures the issues presented:

"It is a terrible thing for someone to reach their peak as a child. If one scales Rachmaninov before the age of twelve, then what other mountains are left, either critically or intellectually? I believe it is worst of all for those trebles, those astounding boy singers with a dizzying purity of sound who dazzle the world for a brief season before their voices crack and break. I pity those children most of all. They lose not only their career but also their instruments. They are like piano players who have lost their hands."

As young as the author appears, I found it interesting that she so capably expressed the dilemmas of old age and grief. There were many passages articulating how it feels to have friends and loved ones die off before you. When the narrator's friend Marcus dies, he observes how dissatisfying it is that while he is amused to find that the old man died listening to himself conduct, there is no one left to share the amusement with because the two he would have shared it with - Edie and Marcus - are now both dead.

Really, I was only held back from a highly recommended rating by a few unsavory bits. At one point, the old composer smokes marijuana with his cronies. Moreover, when there is adultery, I want to see it portrayed with the full feeling of consequences and wrong-doing. Although the narrator does regret the fallout from his adultery, he doesn't regret acting on his desire for the love. He wonders whether his child is, indeed, his or not, but doesn't feel the level of remorse I would wish to convey. So often, it seems like the message sent is that adultery is acceptable because the parties involved move on and the love is so intense that it is justified. So, I guess it is primarily my religious bent that kept me from whole-hearted recommendation.

If you can overlook the adulterous undertones throughout the book and ignore the drug use, then the book will certainly appeal to you. If you love old English houses, this is the book for you. Furthermore, if you have an intense love of music (especially classical) then you will relish this read tremendously. I have a feeling I will return to this author again and might even reread this book at some point for the beauty of the experience.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Book Review: The Marriage Wish

I've read one or two other books by the Christian author, Dee Henderson, so when I noticed this one on the shelves of our library book store, I decided to purchase it. I only discovered after reading The Marriage Wish that it was the very first book she ever published. I think I appreciated the other books I read more, but this was a quick and easy read and great for reading on our family trip to the water park.

Scott Williams blows out the 38 candles on his birthday cake and makes a silent wish to find a woman to marry. Not long after, he runs into Jennifer St. James as she is strolling on the beach near his house. Jennifer's face is bruised and Scott assumes she is the victim of domestic violence. Through time, he discovers that he misread her and that she is really reeling from the recent deaths of her husband and infant daughter. Can she learn to love again? Can Scott be patient as she works through her grief? Will the two end up together despite the odds against them?

The story was of average interest. It was a simple romance and an easy tale to read. The only thing I found bothersome was the frequent use of first names cluttering the dialogue. Here's a sample from two pages in the book:

"Relax, Jennifer..."
"Stop that, Jennifer..."
"Please, Jennifer..."
"Thank you, Scott..."
"Jennifer, what happened today?..."
"Why, Jennifer?..."
"Scott, there is a great deal you don't know about me..."
"Are you okay, Jennifer?..."
"He's my Father, Scott..."
"Jennifer, do you want to talk about the issues?..."
"Thank you, Scott..."
"It's an open offer, Jennifer..."
"Thank you, Scott..."
"That's what friends are for, Jennifer..."
"No, Scott ... She's your sister, Scott."

It was a bit like watching a ping-pong match when each character was identified by name over and over. But, other than that (and a bit of head-hopping in perspectives in the middle of a scene), it was a fairly decent read and kept my interest throughout the telling. This author has gone on to write many further novels, including several series of thrillers. She is considered a "#1 CBA Bestselling Author," as the cover proclaims. Early efforts aside, she's proven her ability to weave a good story.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Book Review: Save Me

The boys had two extra days off school for the weekend of Valentine's Day. We made plans to visit Big Splash Adventure water park in Southern Indiana for a few days. Whenever we go to the water park, I try my hardest to bring a book I already own (as opposed to a library book) because of possible water damage. I lucked out when I found a Lisa Scottoline novel in the library's bookstore a few weeks back. I snatched it up (Scottoline is known for her riveting women's thrillers) - good thing, too, because I dropped the book in a puddle of water and completely ruined the cover page of the book.

I must say, all the revision books I have been reading were fresh in my mind as I read this thriller, Save Me. Scottoline certainly knows how to pack powerful story plot points throughout her novel and I was able to clearly identify them and acknowledge what they did for the plot structure of her book. In other words, I found myself reading as a writer, instead of merely reading for enjoyment. The plot structure in this book was foolproof. The reader is pulled along into the story as the main character encounters increasing opposition throughout the tale.

Rose McKenna is very concerned about her daughter, Melly, who is being bullied by another girl in her class, Amanda. Rose decides to volunteer as a lunchroom aide in order to get a clearer vision of what is going on for her daughter. Unfortunately, just as she begins to confront Amanda about making fun of her daughter's facial port-wine birthmark, the unthinkable happens and Rose is thrown into the moral dilemma of deciding which girl to attend to first after the cafeteria explodes and fire rages. Even though Rose assists Amanda toward an exit before breaking down the door to the handicapped restroom to rescue her own daughter, she is caught up in a community uproar based on her decisions in the moment. She stands to lose everything ... her marriage, her children, and her freedom.

Just when you think things have heated up thoroughly, Scottoline pours more gasoline on the fire and the plot thickens. Rose is convinced that she must do the investigating if she is going to find answers to the many questions surrounding the school fire and the deaths associated with it. She puts herself in harm's way several times in her efforts to find the truth. This book will grab ahold of you and not let you go until everything comes clear.

I couldn't help but put myself in Rose's shoes and imagine how devastating the simple act of volunteering could be for a person. The author notes, at the end of the book, that the story germ came from a conversation she had with a friend over what you would do if you had one car seat and had to transport your child's friend home with you - would you put your child in the car seat or the friend? This little moral dilemma led to a rapid-fire, action-packed story about a woman who must decide who to save - her child or the bully? Scottoline's characters and conflicts are realistic and riveting and her plot structure is breathtaking in its precision.

Now, after admiring the writing skill demonstrated, I must vent a few things that I disliked about the book. While the characters are realistic, I didn't get a strong feeling for the marriage relationship demonstrated in the novel. Moreover, the main character eventually morphed into something ridiculous as the author included statements about moms being action-heroes. It grew more and more unbelievable as she took on the role of super-sleuth and investigated everything on her own after dropping her beloved children (aren't they the ones she is supposedly fighting for and desperate about possibly losing) off with friends. Perhaps the emphasis on plot structure became an obstacle to enjoying the tale as a way to think through a delicate moral issue. Indeed, it is probably equally true that plot cannot trump character or the reader comes up dissatisfied with the outcome. Still, even with those caveats, I thought it was a roller-coaster ride of a tale and Scottoline's fans will certainly eat it up.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Book Review: Revision and Self-Editing for Publication

It was hard to read this book on the heels of the beneficial books (Story Fix and Story Physics) by Larry Brooks. Brooks simply did a better job of articulating the concrete information you need before you set out to rework the rough draft of your novel. Much of the same information was offered, but I didn't enjoy the way the book was organized.

James Scott Bell offers up plenty of advice in his book Revision and Self-Editing for Publication: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells. His chapters cover such familiar topics as characters, plot and structure, point of view, scenes, dialogue, etc. All of these things are worthy attributes to focus on when rewriting a manuscript and Bell does a great job of explaining why each aspect is important. Every chapter ends with a few exercises related to the topic at hand. I didn't bother with the exercises, and perhaps I should have, but I was more eager for the information than for the practice (and would rather focus my practice efforts on my manuscript rather than on other activities).

Bell is a big advocate of looking at the big picture in your first rewrite and then going back in for the details and minor corrections. While not as adamant about the need to structure your novel prior to starting it (a premise Brooks hammers), Bell does focus on the appropriate structure for adequate storytelling. I benefited from the sections on enhancing and solidifying your characters for the reader. I would still have to say I gained more from Brooks's books, but it was helpful to come at it from another writing instructor's viewpoint.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Book Review: Silver Linings

When pressed for time during a brief library run, I picked up this audio book, Silver Linings, by Debbie Macomber, because I knew I'd be needing a new audio book soon. Her stories are always easy to listen to and full of realistic characters. This book continued that trend and I was thankful for a good listen during my morning walk time. Although the book is the fourth in the Rose Harbor series, I don't think I missed out on anything by reading this one out of order. It was easily a stand-alone novel.

Three separate women are reeling from romantic involvements in this story. Jo Marie Rose, owner of the Rose Harbor Inn, has recently fallen for her handy man, Mark Taylor, after a few years of mourning the loss of her fallen soldier husband. Despite declaring his love for her, Mark decides abruptly to leave Cedar Cove for reasons he will not articulate to Jo Marie.

Meanwhile, she is hosting two young women who have returned to Cedar Cove for their ten-year high school reunion. Coco is hoping for a chance to give Ryan a piece of her mind based on the anger and resentment that have simmered below the surface for the last ten years over a wrong from the past. Katie is wanting to meet up with her old flame, James, to explain why she suddenly vanished from his life once high school was done. Coco learns a good deal about herself and about the ability to change over time. Katie mourns her loss deeply, but embraces a chance for new beginnings.

I think my favorite parts of the story focused on the lessons of forgiveness. Everyone needs to be reminded that forgiveness lightens a heavy load. Moreover, the vicarious enjoyment of romance relationships was a fun attribute to the book. I'm glad I picked it up.

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Ring Story

My blogging friend, Amy, recently posted a photo of her wedding ring because a library patron had complimented her on it and she was struck again by how much she adores her ring. I have to say, I love my rings. Yes, you read that right. Rings - I have two sets of wedding rings.

When my husband was preparing to propose to me, he asked if he should give me the ring his ex-fiancee had picked out at a ritzy Chicago jewelry store or if he should get me my own ring. Worried I might throw it back in his face someday ("You couldn't even get me my own ring but had to give me a castoff ring!"), I told him I wanted my own ring, but allowed him to pick it and surprise me (only telling him that I liked her ring quite a bit). He went ahead and bought me one and presented it to me on the night he proposed. Even though I loved it, eventually I simply took to wearing his ex-fiancee's ring because I like it more. I love the bypass pattern of diamonds on each side of the solitaire.

Sadly, about six months ago, I began to notice that I could barely get her rings off my finger (okay, I know they're not HER rings - they are MY rings - her loss). Worried that I might be unable to remove them at all one day, I took them off and began wearing an amethyst ring I used to wear on my right hand. I'm a no-nonsense kind of girl, with very simple taste and it didn't bother me that I wore something other than a wedding ring on my left ring finger.

However, three weeks ago, I decided to join a Bible Study Fellowship class again (after having put in three years of study with BSF back when Bryce was in preschool and kindergarten). When it came to meeting the new women in the study, I began to feel naked about the absence of my wedding rings. I took the rings to a jeweler to see how much it would cost to re-size them, but it was going to be $100 and for that, I'd rather diet and lose the weight - ha! In a burst of inspiration, I realized perhaps my own ring and band would fit better than the preferred set. Alas, I could not find them.

I tore apart my room. I'm known for my clutter and my disorganization and it certainly wasn't the first time I had lost something of importance. I couldn't bear to tell John that the rings were missing. I mentioned the loss to Trevor and asked him to pray. Every day he would come home from school and ask if I had found them. I went through every ring box in my jewelry drawer. I scoured the dresser drawers. It had to be there. I always used to keep them in a glass ring box on my dresser. It was completely mystifying and very unsettling.

Then, last week, I went to take Bryce's girlfriend, Madisyn, out for lunch. I asked if I could take a twenty from John's wallet and when I went to get the cash, I noticed my rings in his valet box. Relief flooded over me. When I asked John why the rings were in his valet, he explained that I had put them there when I purchased the amethyst ring because I said I was afraid I might lose them if I left them in my glass ring box on the dresser top. Am I brain dead, or what?

So, I mentioned the lost rings on Amy's post and posted this photo of my rings:



The ex-fiancee set is on the left and my own set is on the right. I was thrilled when one of Amy's followers said "Both are classy!" I don't think of myself as a classy kind of girl. I'm simple. But, it felt good that someone else identified my jewelry as "classy." Just like Amy, I still love my wedding rings and can't help but glow when someone else admires them, too.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Book Review: Story Physics

After reading Story Fix, by Larry Brooks, I set out last week to begin my novel revision. Instead of starting at page one and beginning to reshape and refine the manuscript, I went through chapter by chapter to outline the number of pages in each chapter, the names of new characters as they are introduced, a brief chapter summary, and a blurb about what each chapter accomplishes for the plot. Creating this graph helped me to see where chapters are weak. where the structure doesn't flow adequately, and where extra dramatic tension needs to be inserted. I have to admit, I was a bit overwhelmed after looking things over. While I have a sense of where I want the story to go, I am beginning to see weaknesses that need to be addressed before I can revise the story.

I suppose I was prolonging that inevitable task when I came up with the brilliant idea of checking to see if our library carried any other books by Larry Brooks. Indeed, they had this title, Story Physics: Harnessing the Underlying Forces of Storytelling. While a lot of the information was very similar to what was presented in Story Fix, it was a good exercise to review the six core components to good storytelling and to look again at the importance of story structure.

Reading this book helped me to see where I have scenes that fail to move the action along. Moreover, his discussion on theme opened my eyes to the temptation I must avoid in building my alternate world with too much journalism, thereby putting the story on hold. Brooks writes, "When you can write about something happening and still make your story about something - [theme] ... then, and only then, will you have elevated your story to a level that someone, hopefully a reviewer, will call art." The author provides a list of questions to pose about each of your scenes to determine whether they hit the mark and advance the story.

In the final section of the book, Brooks turns to two novels, The Help, and The Hunger Games, to analyze the story physics displayed so brilliantly. I was shocked to discover that, although The Help was a New York Times bestseller for over a year, it was rejected by forty-five agents before finding someone who would help champion the book. This is further evidence of how very difficult it is to write and sell a novel. Even the great ones often struggle to find a home. It was greatly beneficial to review both of these stellar novels and look at how their structure falls in line with the recommended structure for great storytelling.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Book Review: Through the Eyes of a Lion - Highly Recommend

I don't often read two books I'm blown away by within the space of a week (of course, The Invention of Wings, reviewed here, took longer than a week to finish in audio form). But, I was totally blown away by this book, Through the Eyes of a Lion: Facing Impossible Pain, Finding Incredible Power, by Levi Lusko. It is amazing - a must read! I have been raving about it and sharing snippets with anyone who will listen.

The book is all about perspective and cannot help but shift the reader's focus from the problems of life to the potential behind those problems. It is devastatingly sad that the author and his wife had to experience the loss of their five-year-old daughter, "Lenya the Lion," in order to gain new insight into the perspective God wants us to have. But, what a blessing we have that we can learn vicariously through their experience, their story, and their new perspective. My sister-in-law recommended this book to me at Christmas time and I went to see if my local library could interlibrary-loan the book for me. Instead, they purchased the book for the library and there is already a hold list for the book because others saw the recent acquisition and signed on to read it, as well.

Early on, Lusko shares a Bible story (from 2 Kings 6) telling of the prophet Elisha's servant, Gehazi, looking out and seeing an approaching army in the thousands. He is immediately dismayed, but Elisha remains unperturbed. Elisha asks him to look outside the cave again and prays for the Lord to open his eyes. When Gehazi looks again, he is no longer fearful of what may come because he is able to see the hundreds of thousands of angels surrounding the army on all sides - heavenly protection normally unrecognized. Lusko builds on this concept by reminding the reader that even on a sunny day, when one looks to the sky, there are stars way out there. Even though we cannot see them, it does not negate the fact that they are there. Our perspective can be so limited by our inability to see the big picture. As he so clearly states, "There are unseen things. Spiritual things. Eternal things. You must learn to see life through the eyes of a Lion. Doing so is to utilize the telescope of faith, which will not only allow you to perceive the invisible - it will give you the strength to do the impossible."

Powerful words. Powerful illustrations. These things are girded even further as Levi begins to unravel the story of the loss of his beloved daughter. At one point in the book, he talks about lions and how the lioness is the one that does the hunting. The male lion produces the terrifying roar that sends the prey scattering in an effort to run away from the roar. They end up running right into the waiting lioness. Lusko encourages us to run toward the roar. Embrace and pursue the things that terrify you because you are at far greater risk if you run from the roar. His words are stirring and embolden the reader in the same way they were emboldened to face the fears and grief associated with their daughter's loss.

The book comes with thirty endorsements in the first pages of the book. There is a reason pastors, authors, and others rave about the book. It is an important message told in an easy-to-read manner with outstanding illustrations and insights. So, get your hands on this book - it is well worth the read and may hold both earthly and eternal value for you.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Book Review: Peach Cobbler Murder

The Hannah Swensen series by Joanne Fluke is very formulaic and yet the formula works over and over again. I will say that my interest is starting to ebb, but I fully intend to give it some time away and then return to more books (since my library has several of the volumes in audio form from this point on in the series). I guess I'm still hooked enough to be interested in finding out who Hannah ends up with. Sadly, I accidentally stumbled on a spoiler that, in the most recent book published, Hannah is set to marry a different man from the two who are courting her in this murder mystery - seriously?

In Peach Cobbler Murder, Fluke has given Hannah a rival for both her business and one of her two boyfriends. Southern belle Shawna Lee Quinn has opened a bakery business across the street from The Cookie Jar and is seriously cutting into Hannah's customer base. Plus, Mike Kingston continues to dedicate a lot of attention to Shawna Lee (somehow it is okay for Hannah to kiss and date another man, but not okay for Mike to spend time with another woman). When Hannah stumbles upon Shawna Lee's dead body, she knows that she is a prime suspect. Thus, it is truly up to her to solve this mystery and put the right man or woman behind bars. (One of the things that tests the willful suspension of disbelief is how frequently Hannah solves the mysteries while the town's detectives barely lift a finger to find the truth.)

After reading six other Hannah Swensen books, I was almost too familiar with the set up. Hannah does her sleuthing, with the help of her sister, Andrea, and business partner, Lisa. She comes up against the killer in a final show-down, but is saved by an unexpected source. The bad guys are put down and Hannah saves the day for yet another book. Amazingly, the small Minnesota town of Lake Eden, has triumphed despite another murder on the books. As I said, much of it pushes the envelope of plausibility and yet the cozy mysteries are entertaining. Add in the ten new recipes, if you're into that kind of thing, and you can see why some readers keep coming back (including me).

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Book Review: The Invention of Wings - Highly Recommend

I was thrilled to find this outstanding book, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, available in audio form at my local library. Having thoroughly enjoyed Kidd's previous book, The Mermaid Chair, (reviewed here) I was eager to take up this new offering. Kidd has such a magical way with words. They are spun like candy and create a world as vivid as anything you and I actually experience. I was immediately sucked into the world of Sarah Grimke and her slave, Hetty (Handful).

On Sarah's eleventh birthday, her mother presents her with ten-year-old Hetty, to serve as a handmaid. Sarah attempts to refuse the gift, but is forced by her parents to accept. Handful's mother, Charlotte, is a strong woman who has infused Handful with hope and pride in her stories of African slaves really being blackbirds, able to fly. This image of rising above the limitations of life and society play out through the novel in many ways in the lives of both Handful and Sarah. While Handful is held back by the institution of slavery, Sarah is kept in chains by virtue of her sex, but both have spirits that soar beyond those limitations with hopes, dreams, and convictions of their purpose in life.

One of the benefits of listening to the book in audio form is the ability to hear the narration from two different narrators, clearly articulating the white and black dialect and vocal inflections. Chapters weave back and forth between Sarah's account and Handful's account. Another benefit comes in the form of an author's note, read by Sue Monk Kidd, at the end of the audio presentation. Within those tracks, we hear what prompted the story within the author's imagination, what parts were based in fact, and what parts were fabrication for the benefit of conveying the story. Sarah and her sister, Angelina, were actual female abolitionists in Charleston and much of the story is historically accurate.

Although the book is long (11 discs presenting 13.5 hours of narration), I never tired of the story. Moreover, because it covers such a long span of time (35 years), it ambled a bit, but still managed to keep me engrossed in the tale. I own a copy of The Secret Life of Bees, but I'm hoping to find a time, later this year, when I may check out the audio version of that Sue Monk Kidd book. She is an author I trust to provide beautiful prose and an intriguing story.
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Note: The link above will lead you to the audio version on Amazon, as several reviewers expressed great frustration with the Oprah Book Club version. I guess Oprah's notes interrupted the flow of the story and many people preferred to read without those notes. I can only highly recommend the same audio version I experienced.