Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book Review: The Haven

Knowing I would have time on my hands during my recent European excursion, I packed two books for the journey. They had to meet a few requirements - small enough to pack easily, not too heavy to enjoy in a distracted setting, and engaging enough to suck me in. The Haven held my interest far more than the previous title I carried and reviewed.

Shiloh lives at the Haven Hospital and Halls. It is all she's ever known, her entire world, because the outside world has been kept beyond the high walls that surround the complex. Although Shiloh knows that the chief goal is to keep each student healthy and sound as they fight off disease, she feels deep inside that something is not right, if only she could put her finger on what that something is. Gideon is determined to fight against the unknown evil and to see the truth triumph. But can he convince Shiloh to stop taking her medicine and see their world as he sees it? Can Shiloh really assist the others in their quest for freedom and independence?

With the flavor of Never Let Me Go, a 2005 dystopian science fiction novel by Nobel Prize-winning British author Kazuo Ishiguro, The Haven is a simple story of teens cloned for their body parts. While Ishiguro's novel is certainly a more compelling and well-written version of this type of tale, The Haven presents an easy, interesting story for young adults. Published by Scholastic, it is a clean read sure to prompt great discussion.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Book Review: Honey, Baby, Sweetheart

I'm guessing timing and atmosphere can influence a person's reaction to a book. For Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, the timing and atmosphere for my reading experience just didn't mesh. I read it in bits and pieces while sitting in airports and lying in beds, tucked in for the night in foreign cities. I didn't connect with the characters and wasn't compelled by the plot. Having liked Deb Caletti's later novel, The Nature of Jade, I had expected to enjoy this novel more.

Ruby McQueen is a sixteen-year-old who has always thought of herself as "The Quiet One." During the summer of her junior year, she meets and falls for Travis Becker, a reckless bad boy who sucks her into his orbit. Her fascination with him leads her into rocky territory of daring adventures and criminal behavior. With a mother reeling from her own betrayal, Ruby is torn between her interest in the guy and her desire to follow her mother's restrictions. Add in a group of senior citizens who call themselves the "Casserole Queens" and are on a mission to uncover a truth about a stroke victim, and you have some ridiculous exploits indeed.

By the time I got to the bits about the senior citizen caper, I was already fairly disinterested in the plot development. The story just didn't appeal to me. Perhaps I was too preoccupied with my trip. Perhaps it was just not a very engaging novel. For me, it certainly wasn't good timing or a good fit.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Book Review: Watch Me Disappear

Battling pre-trip anxiety, I was fairly certain I needed a real nail-biter to take my mind off my European solo trip. Although I was indeed riveted, it was probably not the best choice, given the premise. It is about a woman who goes on a solo hiking trip and disappears. Yikes! Somehow I did the same thing back when I went to visit my parents in Florida. I read a book about a plane crash, while I was riding on the plane to their house.

Watch Me Disappear is a spellbinding book about the fallout from a woman's disappearance. Billie Flanagan has been gone for a year, when her teenage daughter Olive begins to see visions of her mother beckoning her to search further. As she tries to convince her father that her mother is still alive, Olive joins him in a search for the truth about their final year with her mother. Secrets linger beneath the surface and father and daughter begin to wonder how well they really knew Billie.

I loved how the author slowly peeled away the layers of story to reveal deeper and deeper conundrums. Although I didn't really care for or connect with any of the characters, the plot was well-executed and the pacing was perfect. As each new facet unfolded, I doubted what I believed before, right alongside the characters. The ending held a twist and provided much to think about.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Book Review: Any Dream Will Do

While Debbie Macomber's books always tend to be wholesome and clean, I hadn't really thought of her as a Christian author. This book, Any Dream Will Do, made her faith quite clear. I believe she writes a quality story and that is why she enjoys crossover appeal to the secular market. As for me, I'm always up for a good redemption story.

When Shay Benson is released from prison after serving time for embezzlement, she feels lost and abandoned. She doesn't even know where her brother Caden - her only living family member - is. Not that she really wishes to see him anyway, since he was the one who begged her to commit the crime in the first place, in order to save his life from vengeful drug dealers. Wandering into a church for a brief moment of shelter changes her life in ways she could never imagine.

Pastor Drew Douglas is still reeling from the loss of his beloved wife and mother of his two children. At nine and thirteen, the kids are struggling to regain a foothold, as well. Attempting to help Shay get back on her feet just might help the Douglas family to get back on their feet, too. As Drew and Shay grow closer, Caden reappears and brings with him a host of problems. Can Drew and Shay maintain trust in one another, despite secrets and doubts? Will the church accept Drew's interest in a woman with a blackened past?

I enjoyed listening to this audio selection. Macomber has once again provided a stellar stand-alone novel, full of hope in the midst of life's harsh realities. After receiving a lovely response from Donna Gephart for my review of her tween novel, Death by Toilet Paper, I may feel bold enough to take Debbie Macomber up on her invitation for contact (something she has issued from the outset of every one of her audio books). What a thrill to find authors who eagerly welcome reader interaction!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Book Review: The Fiction Class

At some point, I subscribed to the Gotham Writers Workshop site. In a recent newletter, they mentioned this book by one of their instructors, Susan Breen. The Fiction Class is billed as a book perfect for anyone who loves books or has a difficult mother. I love books and writing, but thankfully don't have a difficult mother at all.

Arabella Hicks, aged 38, is a single woman teaching a fiction class for a New York adult education program. Her class meets every Wednesday and contains a number of interesting characters and would-be writers. After every class, Arabella heads off to the nursing home for her weekly visit with her mother. Since the relationship is strained, their times together are often filled with tension and anxiety. The mother is dying and the daughter is desperate to make peace before that happens. Arabella is also somewhat interested in one of the older male students, adding a bit of romance to the tale.

For writers, the novel is full of tidbits of writing advice. Each chapter ends with a writing exercise to practice the tips communicated. Since I read this during a three day trip to visit my mother-in-law, I couldn't really take the time to attempt the exercises, but they were intriguing enough that I might have explored them had there been more time. For the general reader, it is a tale of relational struggle. Some of the conflict revolves around the years of the father's illness and paralysis. Arabella ends up encouraging her mother to attempt the writing exercises and the mother writes her own fiction account of a character hoping for a miracle for her incapacitated husband. Through the writing, Arabella learns more about her mother's perspective and comes to forgive her for some of their struggle.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Book Review: This Was a Man - Highly Recommend

Several months ago, my library experienced a disruption of their services due to some sort of breach in their information system. For many days, the catalog was down. In addition, once the information was once more available, all of my held titles had been wiped clear and I had no idea what I had been waiting on. Thankfully, in a mad dash to find another audio title, I happened upon this final installment of the long-awaited Clifton Chronicles conclusion and remembered I had been waiting on it. I knew I was in for a treat and I was certainly not disappointed.

The previous book had ended, as usual, with a stirring cliffhanger. Giles Barrington's wife Karin had come to a crossroads and was in the midst of being confronted by her spying co-hort, when shots were fired and the reader left to wonder which individual succumbed to the bullets. This Was a Man picks up the battalion and carries the story forward into further deep waters. Full of political intrigue, literary and artistic aspirations, and a fair dose of pure wickedness (from Lady Virginia), this book provides a satisfying conclusion to a brilliant over-arching family tale.

I took great pleasure in the final moments of the Clifton-Barrington union. The funeral scene was especially fun since it included the mention of The Salvation Army (the church I was raised in) and the song, "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," from Guys and Dolls (a song we rehearsed with the faculty choir at music camp this past summer - challenging, but such fun). I loved every minute of the seven-book saga.

Indeed, I cannot recommend this series highly enough. You will be entranced by the masterful storytelling and will come to consider the characters as long-held friends. Jeffrey Archer always manages to carry his readers along on a current of steadily-moving plot developments and to end his books with a twist in the tale. I further recommend listening to the series in audio form because it is so stirring to hear it read with the fine British accent and expert narration of Alex Jennings. I will miss Harry and Emma Clifton, along with their extended family of interesting characters, and may have to return to this series all over again if I run out of suitable audio selections available at my library.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Book Review: Death by Toilet Paper

While I have a great passion for reading, my sons do not all share my inclination. Both Bryce and Trevor are reluctant readers, at best. Imagine the outright terror Trevor experienced, at the start of the school year, when he learned that every seventh grader would be expected to read and review five books for each of the nine week grading periods. For him, that is certainly an uphill climb. I was able to recommend a few highly engaging titles (Lost in the Sun and Ghost Dog Secrets) and he took me up on my suggestions. I snagged Donna Gephart's Death by Toilet Paper at the library, thinking it would be right up his alley because it is the story of a young boy intent upon making money.

Benjamin Epstein misses the old toilet paper his mother used to buy, the cushy stuff they could afford before his father passed away and medical bills and rent payments cut away at their discretionary funds. Laced with bathroom trivia, the story follows Benjamin as he enters a variety of contests and embarks on a number of money-making schemes in an effort to help his mother stave off the threat of eviction. Their perilous state intensifies when his grandfather shows up hoping to stay. Benjamin's zeyde (Yiddish for "grandfather") is experiencing memory issues. Despite the tension of their daily lives and the threat of a powerful bully, Benjamin and his mother continue to pursue "The Grand Plan," set in place by his deceased father.

There are several things I know Trevor will enjoy: the toileting trivia blurbs, a few vomit scenes, Benjamin's entrepreneurial spirit, and his best friend's make-up artist techniques fascination. It will still be a struggle for him to get through, but I'm hoping he chooses it as one of his five books for the second quarter. For me, it was a tender tale about a realistic crisis, full of humor and heart.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Book Review: P.S. from Paris

With a lovely cover and a clear topic in preparation for my trip, I gratefully snapped up this novel, P.S. from Paris, by Marc Levy. It was a delightful light-hearted romance. I may have to reread it after visiting Paris, when perhaps the place names will stand out for me more. As it was, the only thing I recognized in the novel was Sacre Coeur.

Mia, otherwise known as the famous British actress Melissa Barlow, is fed up with her cheating co-star husband. Knowing that she faces many upcoming press events to promote their film, Mia runs away to Paris to visit her oldest friend, Daisy. Daisy is a respectable chef with her own restaurant near Sacre Coeur. Determined to linger there incognito for a while, Mia has her hair dyed and takes on another persona. While logging onto Daisy's computer to check her email, Mia happens upon a dating website and decides to skim the profiles of several men and create her own profile, as well.

Paul Barton is an American author living in Paris. His books are most popular in Korea and his agent is encouraging him to go there to make a television appearance and several book-signings. While his oldest friends are visiting him, they attempt to encourage him to go despite his great fear of flying. They also stumble upon the dating website and trick him into a blind date with one of the women. When Mia and Paul meet, they realize that they have met under less than ideal circumstances and hold no desire for romantic involvement. Thus, they agree to part as friends, with no commitment to any further contact. Yet, the heavens conspire against them and they find their friendship blossoming as they continue to make allowances for repeated contact, saying it "doesn't really count" as anything romantic.

Romance seems inevitable in the "City of Love." If you are looking for a breezy romance set in Paris, this would be the perfect prescription. Since my upcoming trip is partially research for my November novel attempt, I have to decide whether my main character is looking for love in Paris on her trip there. I'll have to walk the streets with an open mind to such possibilities. Too bad it won't be possible to replicate the roof-top view Mia enjoys atop the Paris Opera House. Now that would be a great follow-up experience to reading this book!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Book Review: See You in the Cosmos - Highly Recommend

What a magical, touching book! I think Allie Condie's endorsement of See You in the Cosmos sums up my sentiments the best: "Alex Petroski has a big mind, big dreams, and a big heart. His story is full of the real kind of magic - friends well-met, surprising journeys, and heartbreak and hope. This is a beautiful book." I concur enthusiastically! I was swept away so thoroughly that I lost track of time and forgot to pick my son up from football practice. My heart was tugged and I pondered anew the gift of relationships.

Eleven-year-old Alex Petroski has one goal on his mind. He wants to communicate with whatever other life forms are out there. He intends to accomplish this feat by launching a golden i-pod into space on a rocket. The i-pod contains 52 separate recordings filled with the sounds he has collected to represent life on earth and the accompanying narrations of his own daily life. Alex even has the perfect occasion in mind - a rocket-launching festival, where he can meet his on-line friends from He's prepared enough meals to care for his widowed, emotionally-troubled mother in his absence and has purchased a train ticket, but the train officials insist he must be accompanied by a grown-up in order to travel. Thankfully, an older boy steps in and claims to be his brother (Alex does have an older brother, but he lives in Los Angeles and works as a sports agent). Once Alex and his dog are safely on the train bound for the festival, he meets other rocket enthusiasts and his true journey really begins, a journey of self-discovery, full of new information, obstacles, and long-held secrets. Alex must reach deep within to find the courage to face the answers to his questions about his role in his family and his place in the universe.

I can just imagine the intensely captivated response youngsters would give to this book as a classroom read-aloud. I remember the enthusiasm of the third graders in Ms. McKee's classroom, whenever she would announce that it was time for more of Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux. Filled with such intense emotional truth, readers could not help but be similarly enthralled with See You in the Cosmos. Alex's innocence and curiosity shine through as he navigates a difficult world and attempts to leave his mark.

Author Jack Cheng has struck gold with his first book for young readers. It was interesting to note, in his acknowledgments, that he started out his journey to publication by seeking funds for his first novel through Kickstarter (for more on his journey to publication, you can go here to listen to a number of podcasts describing the process). I, too, am grateful for the individuals who backed this talented young writer and the agent who discovered his Kickstarter campaign. The world needs more books like this, books that not only affirm life, but - like a rocket - sweep you up and gently drop you down in wonder at the privilege of human existence and the power of human love.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Book Review: The Rejected Writers' Book Club

I can't remember where I saw this book mentioned, but I made a mental note of the intriguing title, The Rejected Writers' Book Club. I suppose you could say I could relate, having received my fair share of rejection letters, from outright "this is just not for me" to "we wish we could publish your book, but we only publish two YA books per year and our quota is already full." It sounded like a book sure to appeal to would-be-writers.

Despite the awesome title and splendid cover, I didn't really enjoy it. I thought it was ridiculous and far-fetched, a sort of comedy of errors based on a highly unlikely premise. The Rejected Writers' Book Club members are thrown into a tizzy when one member receives, horror of horrors, an acceptance letter, thus ruining their lengthy streak of some 475 rejections in a row. Instead of elation, the would-be-author is horrified and goes to great lengths to retrieve the manuscript and secure the highly-sought-after rejection letter she believes her manuscript deserves. The ensuing adventure, despite moments of levity, pushed the envelope into the outlandish category.

The writing was sound enough, but the characters were caricatures. The club enlists the assistance of a local librarian, who looks on in amusement at their antics and eccentricities. Their road trip includes the predictable elements of young love, haunted houses, obstacles, and crazy encounters. The women manage to win over every stranger through the blessings of their cooking skills. In the end, the librarian joins their ranks, won over by the thrill of receiving her own rejection - really? Although it was a light-hearted, easy read, it was simply too absurd for my tastes. For those in the market for a ridiculous romp of a read, the author has written two more in the series (all available on Kindle for less than two bucks). I'm afraid, I'm not up for the ride.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Book Review: Black Rabbit Hall - Highly Recommend

After abandoning my previous audio book (Wired by Julie Garwood - sadly, I was already half-way through before I simply gave up because of the trashiness of it), I was absolutely thrilled with the fare of Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase. This was an outstanding audio experience. I was riveted and entranced throughout the telling. As Book Page proclaimed, "For fans of Kate Morton and Daphne du Maurier, Black Rabbit Hall, is an obvious must-read, but it is sure to please any reader who delights in devilishly thrilling dramas...."

Lorna Dunaway cannot help but be pulled back to the Cornish countryside when searching for a venue for her upcoming wedding. She has fond memories of exploring a particular old country estate, called Black Rabbit Hall, with her mother in her younger days. Sadly, the house has decayed quite a bit over the years and may not be a suitable choice, in the eyes of her fiance John. Still, when the owner invites her to spend a few days there, she gives into the magnetic force.

As she explores the grounds, she comes across markings on a tree indicating the untimely death of a young boy. Curious to know more, she probes the owner for more background history, unaware that she is unearthing personal truths she may not be ready to face. As Caroline Alton outlines the history of the house and the family, Lorna is both undone and reborn.

While I guessed the ending long before it played out, it was still a delicious journey. I loved the narrator's accent, the English environment, the mystery and intrigue, and the characterization. I enjoyed it enough to want to listen to it all over again, and just might, if I cannot find another suitable audio book to listen to while I walk.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Book Review: Lighthouse Faith

The enticing cover of this book hooked me. I found the subtitle compelling: Lighthouse Faith: God as a Living Reality in a World Immersed in Fog. I was drawn to the beauty of the image, an attractive photo of the author, a one time Miss Minnesota and third runner up for Miss America. When I began to skim and my eye happened upon a reference to Oliver Sacks, my desire to read the book increased even more. But, the content is what really causes me to recommend this book.

Author Lauren Green, a religion correspondent for Fox News, has had the opportunity to meet and interview many interesting people. I appreciated the intellectual tone of the book and enjoyed reading about various individuals who helped shape Green's arguments for the importance of faith in a muddled world. Using a lighthouse metaphor, Green draws a parallel from the lighthouse to the structure of the Ten Commandments, God's holy law and a fitting primer for effective living. The first commandment is key, just like the beam of light dispelling darkness and assisting navigation: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." All other commandments hold up the first and foremost one. Man was created with a God-shaped hole. We were made for worship, but if we are not worshiping God, then we will certainly be worshiping something else in His stead. It might be success, wealth, the approval of others, or any number of other idols that take the place of God.

I loved the question posed on the back cover: "Is God simply an accessory that we carry with us?" Basically, the author is asking us to delve internally and discover what foundation we are building on. This is a book with equal appeal to both Christians and non-Christians. For those who have scorned religion, it opens up arguments for the existence of God and the perfection of His plans and purposes. For those who already believe, it challenges faith to become real and dynamic, a light in a darkened world. With passages exploring things like music, epigenetics, mathematics, and architecture, alongside things like theology, sacrifice, covenant, and worship, Green causes the reader to think deeply. Indeed, the book contains a fascinating appendix: "A Small Lesson in Music History and a Harmonic Analysis of the 'Hallelujah Chorus'" - sure to appeal to musically inclined readers.

Green argues against "facades of faith" that "mask the temple to a false god within." No one would dispute the presence of evil in the world today, but are we acknowledging that God's light alone illuminates through the darkness and are we structuring our lives on that foundation? The light is there, if we're willing to use it as a guide in the storm.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Book Review: Sisterchicks Go Brit!

I fondly remember my mother telling me she had found another good writer of Christian inspirational novels - Robin Jones Gunn. How I loved hearing her recommendations! It is so sad that she no longer reads books, or even my blog, due to her dementia. My dad says that she tries, but just cannot retain enough to stick with it. So, as I read Sisterchicks Go Brit!, I not only thought of my upcoming trip to London, but also thought about how my mother and I would have discussed this book, if I had read it a few years back.

Overall, I enjoyed the story and the travelogue feel to the novel. Since I studied at Oxford with the Wheaton-in-England program the summer of 1985, and worked for six months in London on a student-work visa in 1987, I was lucky enough to have experienced quite a few of the tourist activities outlined in the novel. The only thing I didn't attempt (nor will I ever, probably) was a hot-air balloon ride.

This is certainly not a plot-driven story. It primarily introduced two women who have a wish fulfilled when they are given tickets to travel to London, escorting an elderly neighbor back to her home in Olney. Liz and Kellie, who teasingly call themselves Lady Ebb and Lady Flo (for their intention to go with the flow of whatever transpires during their trip), are contemplating going into an interior design business together. Liz's love of British literature shines through and Kellie's appreciation of patterns and designs carry much of the side-story, but the pace and intention of the plot didn't really entice all that much. Throughout the story, the two are drawn closer to the Lord (after all, it is a Christian novel, and I guess that is to be expected) and enjoy a time of blessing throughout their travels.

As someone intending to depart on an upcoming trip to London, it was a fun read. It is sure to appeal to Christian women who experience wanderlust of any sort, and especially those who, like Liz, dream of seeing Big Ben. I can think of one friend, in particular, I should recommend it to, because this Christian friend absolutely loves travel and has recently started her own travel agency. I could imagine an agent offering a tour that lives out the experiences of Sisterchicks Go Brit! - a Sisterchicks Go Brit tour, so to speak.

I hate to fault the book for my common complaint with Christian fiction (the message feels forced into the story, instead of the story carrying the message), but the spiritual applications did, indeed, feel intrusive at times. It was as if the author wrote of a friendly girlfriend trip across the pond, but needed to add layers of Christian observations so it would appeal to the intended market. Having recently attempted to write my own inspirational novel, I can appreciate how difficult it is to avoid allowing the spiritual observations to overshadow the strength of story. Nonetheless, I can see why this author appealed to my mother, and I would still be willing to read another of her books. I'll have to check out the Paris excursion Sisterchick novel called Sisterchicks Say Oo La La!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Book Review: The Skeleton Crew

This was a book for my book club. I had to request it by interlibrary loan since none of the nearby libraries carried it. My interest was definitely piqued by the subtitle, The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America's Coldest Cases. It was an intriguing, if a bit gory, read.

Hard to imagine, but there are over forty thousand unidentified dead bodies in America. Even when the bodies carry interesting clues, like dental work and tattoos, it can be hard for the police to identify the person. Oftentimes, the cases merely go cold because funds cannot really be spent to dig into the complex puzzle of identification. Enter a weird kind of common man, who enjoys puzzles and surfs the Internet for clues that might solve the mysteries behind these often faceless individuals. Criminals sometimes go to desperate lengths to obscure the pertinent clues like fingerprints, cutting off hands and bashing in faces. Or, the elements often deteriorate the condition of the body to the point where it is unrecognizable.

Deborah Halber descends into this gruesome world of facial reconstructions, autopsies, and arm-chair sleuthing. She outlines several cases, both solved and unsolved. She highlights the eccentric individuals who come home from their day jobs, fire up their computers, and seek to match missing person bulletins to the details of unidentified corpses. While I don't think I'll take her advice, and seek out the websites often used, I did find the various stories interesting. My only complaint would be that the writing occasionally felt disjointed and jumbled. Indeed, everyone in my book club expressed the same observation, even to the point of agreement that this probably isn't the most well-written book on the subject of amateur sleuthing. Still, it would probably appeal to readers who are interested in true crime stories and who root for the underdog to answer questions the authorities don't have time, money, or energy to pursue. Just don't expect an in-depth explanation of how to go about solving these troublesome mysteries.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Another Boy in the Family

For years, and I mean YEARS, my youngest has been begging for another dog. When he was two we purchased a Goldendoodle named Harley. We didn't change the name since he'd been called that for the first 9 months of his life. His name should have been Handful, because he was that. We had hoped for a Goldendoodle ever since we saw one at my oldest son's soccer game and the owners explained that the dog didn't shed (an important factor, given my husband's allergies to pet dander). Alas, the dog did shed ... and bolt out the door and into the street the minute my young boys opened the door ... and roll in dead animals ... and climb up on the counter to eat chicken bones ... and .... Eventually, we rehomed the dog and hopefully he found an owner who knew how to deal with animals enough to meet the challenges he presented. I, having never owned a dog, was certainly unprepared to be the alpha over Harley.

Thus, the years of nagging and pleading. We argued that we needed to find a dog that fit our needs ... especially potty-trained and non-shedding. The boys argued that our expectations were too high. I have been scouring the Internet, looking for the perfect fit for our family. I finally found a Hoobly ad for some adorable Shichons (second generation Shih-tzu/Bichon Frise mix). Sean was immediately drawn to the photos of the dogs. He begged and begged. We discussed and discussed. I emailed the breeders to ask if any were still available ... there were three out of six left. We went around and around about it and I eventually had to write back to say that my husband wanted to hold out for a dog that was already potty-trained. The breeder wrote back. He wished us luck and pointed out that often getting a dog who is already house-broken, but not very old means the owners are rehoming the dog for some reason they might not be expressing (perhaps the case with Harley). After thinking about his words and more discussion, we decided that we would at least see the dogs.

We came ... we saw ... we fell in love ... we bought. He's like a little fluff-ball. Here is my happy boy with his long-awaited dog:

The boys immediately agreed on a name ... Toby. We are, indeed, struggling with the housetraining (mostly our fault, because we fail to see the signs he gives prior to his accidents ... we'll get the hang of it and hopefully, he'll get the hang of only relieving himself outdoors). Although he didn't meet all the requirements, he is actually feeling like a perfect fit. He is very calm and quiet. In many ways, he is a good dog. And he certainly couldn't be more adorable ... could he?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Review: The London Eye Mystery

Before I leave on my London/Paris/Rome trip, I've been attempting to saturate myself in preparatory reading and viewing. I watched the entire Sherlock series (oh, how I loved it!) and Three Coins in the Fountain on Netflix. So, of course, I jumped at the chance to read this book, The London Eye Mystery, by Siobhan Dowd. While it didn't really provide much background about London (beyond a description of how the famous London Eye works), it was an entertaining story.

Ted has a unique way of approaching things. His Asperger's Syndrome causes him to analyze things more thoroughly than others and miss cues that others pick up easily. So, when his cousin, Salim, goes up in a sealed London Eye pod and fails to exit when the pod returns to the ground, Ted immediately begins to process all the options and seeks to ferret out the truth. Together with his sister, Kat, he follows clues all over London and solves the puzzle of what happened.

I enjoyed the quirkiness of the narrator. It was a pleasant little read. Kids who are getting ready to visit London, and especially the London Eye, will enjoy immersing themselves in this story first. It would be interesting to see if young people who have Asperger's feel a kinship with the narrator.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Book Review: Property of a Noblewoman

With little time for seeking out an audio book, I decided to gamble on another Danielle Steel option. Property of a Noblewoman once again took the characters on a journey between the United States and Europe in search of the trail of the owner of a safe deposit box full of jewelry. It was another engrossing story and I'm so glad I selected it.

Jane is a law clerk, begrudgingly assigned to the surrogate's court and Philip is a representative from Christie's jewelry department. When Jane contacts Philip to set in motion an auction of the unclaimed items, they both feel caught up in the story of the countess who died with no heirs, only $2000 to her name, and a safe deposit box full of extremely valuable brooches, necklaces, and rings. Marguerite Pearson was an outcast when she was shipped off to Europe in the midst of World War II. Betrayed by her family, Marguerite makes her own way and ends up marrying an Italian count. But can Jane and Philip find the rightful heir of the jewelry before it is auctioned off and proceeds distributed to the state?

The story unfolds beautifully with expert pacing and character development. The reader cannot help but root for Jane and Philip in their quest for love and for the best resolution of the case they share. Although the denouement wasn't quite as stunning as the one in the previous Steel book I read, it was still satisfying. I was thrilled to see a whole host of audio books by Steel in our audio book section at the library. Apparently, I can count on Danielle Steel to make the miles slip away as I walk on my treadmill.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Book Review: Everything, Everything

Jennifer Niven, author of All the Bright Places, described it as "powerful, lovely, heart-wrenching, and so absorbing I devoured it in one sitting." Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon, was truly that! I, too, read it in one sitting. Even at over 300 pages, this love story flew by before I knew it. It served as a healthy reminder to me that even though my upcoming trip to Europe by myself is daunting, I would be far worse off if I didn't take the risk and stayed home instead. It encouraged me to suck the marrow out of life, while I have the chance.

Madeline Whittier has more limitations than your average teen. No, more than that, she has every limitation imaginable, because she suffers from a rare disease that makes her allergic to everything. She has grown comfortable in her little isolated world with her mother and her nurse and her library full of books. Life is good, despite her illness. Until ... Olly moves in next door. He may shake her world more than she ever imagined.

Their love affair begins with a witty email correspondence. I'm a big fan of epistolary novels, so I thoroughly enjoyed this inclusion. It progresses when Madeline convinces her nurse to allow Olly to go through the decontamination procedures for a brief visit. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

So if I plowed through it so quickly and enjoyed it so much, what held me back from highly recommending it? First, I felt there could have been so much more depth to the novel. Second, call me a prude, but I really hoped the girl would hold back from experiencing everything, everything. I begin to wonder if authors are presenting cleaner manuscripts and being told by their publishers that in order for them to turn a profit, they must bow to the social norms of the day and include sex. So disappointing. Still, it was a fully-engaging book and worth the read, as an adult. I don't know that I would offer it up to my daughter, had I one, because it sends the message that teenagers should seize the day and experience absolutely everything. Why wait? Grab it while you have the chance. Just not the message I enjoy seeing young teenagers devour.

The movie came out in May to mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes only gave it two out of five stars. Common Sense Media does acknowledge that producers kept the love scene age-appropriate by fading out. I'm not sure yet whether I will take the time to view the movie, but based on the quality of the writing, I would read another book by Nicola Yoon.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Book Review: The Book of the King

I wanted to like this book so much more than I did. I had high hopes of grand adventure and spiritual allegory akin to the Chronicles of Narnia. While it did contain a fair amount of that, I just never fully got sucked into the world the authors created.

In The Book of the King, by Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry, present-day Owen Reeder lives with his father above their tiny bookstore. He is unaware of the supernatural events occurring around him, until he is chased by a gang of boys one day and finds himself swept back to solid ground when he runs right over a hole in the earth. Soon, he encounters a man with a very special book and is led into mysterious other dimensions in his fight to keep and understand that book.

I suppose I was put off at the beginning. The first two sentences are a mock warning (intended to serve as an enticement) to those incapable of handling the promised adventures within (similar to the tone of Lemony Snicket in The Series of Unfortunate Events books):

"To tell the story of Owen Reeder - the whole story and not just the parts that tickle the mind and make you laugh from the belly like one who has had too much to drink - we have to go into much unpleasantness. So if you are faint of heart and can't stand bloody battles and cloaked figures in the darkness and invisible creatures (or visible ones who don't have much of a sense of humor), and if you don't like to cry over a story when someone you love is taken, then perhaps our tale is not for you."

It was more a matter of the tale not being for me because of the constant insertion of direct interaction with the reader and the pretentious manner. The reader is addressed by the authors repeatedly with warnings about what they will soon see and encounter within the story. I suppose I tend to prefer stories where the reader is so caught up in what is happening that the presence and actual being of the author is temporarily forgotten. Plus, while talking to the reader above the story, so often the message seemed to attempt loftiness. For example:

"When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a frightened young man to slip the surly bonds of danger and touch the face of freedom, please note that the back door of a restaurant is not always the best exit."

I know I'm not the intended audience. Moreover, I do think young people will be more sucked in by the story and less irritated with the author-to-reader comments. Who knows, they might even be riveted enough to continue in the series (since the ending held no ending at all). For me, I'm not likely to keep the book for my sons to read, even though I purchased it.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Book Review: The Duchess

I'm rather surprised that I've never before read a Danielle Steel novel. The name is so well-known. When my sister remarked that she seldom reads, but when she does, she often selects a Danielle Steel novel, I decided to see if there were any in audio form at my library. Thankfully, I found one that sounded right up my alley. The Duchess presents a tale of a young girl's triumph over tragedy during the 19th century, set in England, France, and the United States. Perfect.

Angelique Latham is the daughter of the Duke of Westerfield. When, at eighteen, her father dies, the entire estate is, according to law, left in the hands of her older half-brother, Tristan. Fearing his eldest's resentment of the younger sister, just before his death, the Duke wisely and silently gives her a small sum of money to tide her over in case the brother throws her out. Indeed, Tristan forces her out the day after her father's death, sending her to work as a nanny for his friends, pretending she is a distant cousin.

When a male visitor wrongfully accuses her of scandal, she is turned out of that home without a reference and forced to flee to her deceased mother's native land of France. With none of her rightful privileges, she must make her way in the world and remain true to her noble upbringing. Her scheme is scandalous and dangerous, but serves her well for a short time. Sadly, fate throws her another wrench and she books passage to the United States. Through it all, she tenaciously clings to her dignity and triumphs in the end.

I adored this tale, despite her descent into scandal. Angelique is such a strong and determined character, overcoming obstacles with grace and style. The plot moves steadily and fully engages the reader. I enjoyed each of the diverse settings and the time-period portrayed. I understand why Steel's novels have received such popular support. She is an excellent writer and master storyteller, whose characters come to life on the page.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Book Review: London: A History

It has been slim pickin's these days for audio books to accompany my morning treadmill walks. I attempted two different thrillers, but after getting over a half hour into each, discovered they were so full of smut that I couldn't bear to continue (sob, why do authors feel a need to add sexual voyeurism and scandal to entice readers - all it does for me is make me shut the book). Thus, I thought I'd go with a safe bet and listen to A.N. Wilson's history of London, in anticipation of my fall trip.

Alas, it was a bit dry. I guess a Brit might find the political commentary and architectural explanation interesting, but I had a tough time of it. Indeed, I wondered how a historian could write such an opinionated piece (isn't the goal to remain objective and impartial?). I was expecting to be wooed into wanting to visit (of course, the ticket has already been purchased, so technically I don't need to be wooed). Sadly, it just didn't pull me in with a great desire to learn more about this cosmopolitan capital. I think I would have been even more bored with the fare, if I had no past experience with the city. Thankfully, having lived there for about six months, I was familiar with many of the locations mentioned. Nonetheless, I don't really recommend this if you are looking for a title to enchant you with dreams of London's fair city.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Book Review: Lost in the Sun

Two excellent tween reads in a row! How fortunate I was to have stumbled onto these titles. Lisa Graff''s novel, Lost in the Sun, is a sure-fire hit for boys who struggle with the intensity of emotions or who have a great love of baseball. While boys will especially relate to the main character, I believe again that this book (like the crossover appeal of The Thing About Jellyfish) will hold equal appeal to boys and girls.

The burden Trent carries threatens to crush him and he is sure the crushing will be deserved. At the end of winter in his fifth grade year, Trent agreed to play a simple game of hockey. Somehow the game ended up being not so simple, though. When he connected with the puck and sent it flying, it hit the chest of Jared Richards and, because of an unknown heart defect, Jared died. Now Trent must face the emotional fallout and the alienation he feels from everyone else in town because he is sure they hate him. As Trent deals with his guilt and pain, he finds solace in the complicated love of family, the unusual friendship of Fallon Little (a girl with a story all her own), and the unexpected support of his most disliked teacher.

This novel is sure to resonate with kids as it focuses on the troubled waters of split families, sibling rivalry, and trauma recovery. The grown-ups portrayed in the book may have their own hang-ups and weaknesses, but mostly they are solid role models and often give out sound advice. Even the bad advice (for example, the father counsels that "sometimes you only get one chance") causes the reader to think about things and reason for themselves what they believe about life and second chances. While the book never brought me to tears, I did ache inside for the pain Trent carried around and wished him all the best in his genuine friendship with Fallon. Teacher resources can be found on the author's website.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Book Review: The Thing About Jellyfish - Highly Recommend

Despite being a book that tween girls will definitely relate to, I believe my tween sons will relate to The Thing About Jellyfish just as much. It is chock full of scientific facts and interesting things to contemplate. The very bad thing the narrator does to her best friend is the type of gesture boys will find fascinating. Moreover, boys and girls alike will find their heart strings tugged by the universal emotions of grief. I was deeply moved and wept like a baby.

Suzy Swanson cannot fathom the death of her former best friend. It is unexpected. It is tragic. It cannot be explained by her mother's statement that "sometimes things just happen." Franny deserved so much more than 412 million heart beats. She deserved better than the final gesture Suzy made to her on the last day of sixth grade. It doesn't matter that Suzy's intentions were good. The fact is, their last moment together cannot be taken back and the grief of that overwhelms Suzy so much that she stops speaking.

Her silence troubles her parents, her therapist, and her teachers, but Suzy believes she might make a breakthrough if only she could talk to the right jellyfish expert. As she researches jellyfish, she begins to believe she has found the reason behind her best friend's demise. Now she must find her voice in front of her peers and convince the others.

This book took me back to the angst of middle-school transitions, when friendships and bodies begin to shift and change. Suzy, with her frizzy hair, her intense curiosity about the world, and her determination to cling to the way things were, captured my heart thoroughly. The author's power of voice was stunning. I completely agree with the Kirkus Review's comment, "A painful story smartly told, Benjamin's first solo novel has appeal well beyond a middle school audience." I cannot recommend this book enough. The writing will suck you in, hold you fast, and break your heart all at the same time.

Indeed, I recommended the book to Sean and he read it and enjoyed it as well.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Book Review: The Garden of Small Beginnings

I have the blackest thumb in the history of mankind. Okay. Well, that's probably not true, but I do tend to kill all green things that I attempt to grow. Fact. Just finished off a plant that my oldest son's ex-girlfriend gave to him awhile back. Somehow with the camps and schedule craziness, I forgot to water it adequately and it is now a shriveled mess destined for the trash heap. But, I would like to nurture the skill. Indeed, my husband has plans for a garden (how that will work with the large critter population he attracts with his constant bird feeding, I'm not sure). Thus, this title and premise jumped out at me in the recent acquisition shelves of my library.

Lilian Girvan is still reeling from the recent death of her beloved husband when her textbook illustration job sends her out to a gardening class to prepare her for an assignment. She brings along her sister, Rachel (instrumental in helping Lili over the hump of mental breakdown), and her two young daughters, Clare and Annabel. There, the three meet a host of interesting characters who begin to nurture Lili and woo her out into the world again through the intervention of gardening.

I loved the brief snippets before each chapter, instructing how to grow various vegetables and herbs. These passages were brief enough not to interrupt the flow of the narrative, yet insightful enough to be helpful. Although I would probably benefit from copying out those particular pages, I figured my husband has sufficient books and I'd be better off following his lead.

Word of warning: A great deal of the humor in this book centers around sexual innuendos and double entendres. Morally speaking, the characters approach sexuality with very loose standards (Rachel seems to bed any man she holds the slightest interest in and is more hesitant when she feels there might be more significant relationship - this was rather perplexing to me, from my perspective). This isn't exactly a book I feel good about recommending to my Christian friends, since the worldview is quite different.

Moreover, it felt like the story ambled along without really getting anywhere. I suppose at the end of the book, Lili does finally get to the place where she is ready to seek out her own happiness, but the journey to that point seemed winding and, at times, unsatisfying. While I never really fell in love with the characters, I did enjoy thinking about and vicariously experiencing the grief process. It kept me reading, but more for the gardening elements than for the story line or humor.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Book Review: The View from Saturday

Although I didn't select this audio book for its brevity, I was short on time for perusing the shelves and knew I could trust E. L. Konigsburg for a decent tween read. The characters were delightful, the story engaging, and the plot pace steady.  With a kid-friendly feel of "Slum Dog Millionaire," The View from Saturday would make an excellent read-aloud for 3rd to 6th grade classrooms.

Mrs. Olinski doesn't know why she selected the particular four individuals who make up the sixth grade Academic Bowl team, but she knows that they have the potential to sweep the competition beneath their feet. Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian become fast friends as they prepare and get to know one another better. Each has a particular story fitting them for particular questions presented and when they come together, they establish a friendship that is both enduring and profitable.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Book Review: Quality of Care

Whenever I go away I try to bring along books from my own coffers, rather than carrying library materials, on the off chance they might get lost. Moreover, as I was contemplating my time at CBLI, I wanted to bring books that were small enough to fit easily in my bag and not take up too much space. I brought along two books, but the first one, The Road from Coorain, proved too heady to hold my interest while at camp (full of pages and pages of descriptions of Australian countryside). Thankfully, this second one, Quality of Care by Elizabeth Letts, managed to hold my attention and would be sure to appeal to anyone who loves horses.

Clara Raymond is a dedicated obstetrician who insists on providing the best possible quality of care for her patients. When a pregnant woman turns up one night, events are triggered that will test Clara's perspective and self-assessment. That woman is Lydia Benson, a former friend who once saved her life. She arrives on the arm of her husband, Gordon Robinson, a man Clara once loved. Given their shared histories, one would expect this to be a fortuitous night, but instead, when things go wrong, Clara flees and attempts to confront many demons from her past.

Of course, given that I was reading this book in the midst of a course on God's sovereignty, I couldn't help but smile at the author's attempt to handle the grand ideas of fate and chance. At one point, the narrator observes that Gordon was the one "who tried so hard to teach me to accept the fact that there doesn't have to be a reason, that sometimes bad things just happen." Moreover, another doctor remarks to Clara, "Every day, I show up to work and I try to do the best I can. Just one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, you do what you can and it doesn't turn out to be enough. I feel quite sure in the end that the balance [of harm to good] is in my favor.... If you show up every day with your game clothes on, you may win some and you may lose some, but I'm pretty sure you're right with yourself and with the patients - right enough with God, the way I reckon it."

Clara struggles with her part in the fate of Lydia's life and Lydia's part in the fate of her own life. In the end, she sides with her colleague's assessment of her responsibilities. She concludes, "So I pray - little accidental prayers that are just small blossoms of my inherent hope for goodness. Watch out for the little one - watch out for the ones who are small and need assistance, and are defenseless. Please protect those who cannot protect themselves. And me? I just get up every morning and put my shoes on, and try to do the very best I can that day, and every other single day that follows." While it wasn't a book that affirmed by belief in God, it was a well-written debut novel that held my attention and furthered my thoughts about personal responsibility and God's hand.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book Review: Trusting God Even When Life Hurts

Given the original date of publication (1988), I'm surprised I never encountered Jerry Bridges' book, Trusting God Even When Life Hurts, before. What a powerful little gem! I'm so thankful that I selected this elective course at CBLI. Moreover, I'm especially glad that the teacher didn't allow discussions to boil down into political debates, but focused instead on the opportunity to express times when God's providence has seemed in contrast to what we would expect God to want for our lives.

The sovereignty of God is a difficult subject to wrestle with, yet it is key to surviving adversity and maintaining faith. Every one of us will face trials and tribulations that will cause us to scratch our heads in wonder and say, "Where is God in all of this? How could a good God allow this? Doesn't God want better for me than this?" Adversity can make us bitter. It can sap the faith right out of us. I know. I've been there before.

For me, at least, the author achieved his stated purpose: "to glorify God by acknowledging His sovereignty and His goodness [and] to encourage God's people by demonstrating from Scripture that God is in control of their lives, that He does indeed love them, and that He works out all the circumstances of their lives for their ultimate good." I was struck by my own past failures when he emphasized that "it is just as important to trust God as it is to obey Him. When we disobey God we defy His authority and despise His holiness. But when we fail to trust God we doubt His sovereignty and question His goodness. In both cases we cast aspersions upon His majesty and His character."

Bridges teaches three essential truths in this book: "1) God is completely sovereign; 2) God is infinite in wisdom; and 3) God is perfect in love." First we have to ask if it is God or chance governing our circumstances. As Bridges clearly states: "His love may be infinite, but if His power is limited and His purpose can be thwarted, we cannot trust Him." Thus, the sovereignty of God becomes the foundation on which we build our faith. This sentence resonated with me: "God has not looked the other way or been caught by surprise when adversity strikes us."

I'm guessing the biggest struggle for people centers on the balance of God's sovereignty with man's free will. Bridges argues, "just as we must not construe God's sovereignty so as to make people mere puppets, so we must not press man's freedom to the point of limiting God's sovereignty." He points out God's sovereignty over people, nations, and nature. God can move the hearts of men in our favor or against us. He allows everything we encounter for the purpose of His eventual glory.

One of my favorite chapters was "Trusting God for Who You Are." God, in His sovereignty, designed each one of us in the womb. He allowed both our strengths and our weaknesses. He rules over who we are, what we are, and where we go in life. In thinking of my recent reading of Through the Eyes of Hope, I fully believe that God allowed that little boy to be born with his disabilities for a grander purpose than we may ever know.

Who better demonstrates God's glory through trial than Joni Eareckson Tada? She recently wrote an article reflecting on the 50 year anniversary of her tragic diving accident that left her a quadriplegic. She mentioned ten words from a friend that strengthened her in her trial: "God permits what He hates to accomplish what he loves."

God allows adversity in our lives to grow us deeper in Him, to glorify Him, and to allow us to share in His sufferings. He can and will use our distress. Nothing is wasted. It is all gain, even in the trial and the pain. Oh, how I needed that reminder!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Central Bible & Leadership Institute 2017

One of the most significant blessings in my life over the years has been our involvement in The Salvation Army's Central Bible & Leadership Institute. My sons and I have been attending every summer since my oldest was three; that's nineteen consecutive years! I cannot begin to express how grateful I am for all that has been poured into us over the years through this camp. This year was slightly different, in that only one of my sons accompanied me, but we both came away with a feeling of great fellowship and intense spiritual nourishment.

(Photo courtesy of Emily Southfield)

(an annual selfie taken by my dear friend, Laura Allen)

Thanks to the dates being bumped up a week, we were able to attend without driving back and forth to accommodate the start of school (we proved the level of our devotion by doing just that last year).

We received a housing assignment that gave me some pause, but we've had plenty of years of excellent assignments, so I felt it was certainly our turn. Beech provides a long hallway of tiny rooms (four on either side) with two twin beds in each. The room itself, despite being small, was perfectly sufficient for our minimal needs. I was most anxious about the bathroom dilemma, since there are sixteen people sharing one male toilet/shower and one female toilet/shower. Amazingly, Trevor only had to wait occasionally for access (there were more men than women billeted there), and I only had to wait once (primarily because I'm such an early riser that nobody else was ever up when I began my morning routine). It was cozy and a comfortable distance from the dining hall.

I am always blessed by the opportunity to join such a large group singing praises to God. The times of worship, in both the general meetings and in our smaller adult track Bible study, thrilled my soul. I think my very favorite worship tune this year was the song "Let Nothing Be Wasted" (especially poignant on the heels of writing a redemptive women's inspirational novel this past November).

(photo courtesy of Jared Collins)

The spirit really moved distinctly in the adult Bible study this year (once again taught by the excellent Bible teacher, Linda Himes). We studied the tabernacle/temple and focused on the idea of the meaning of worship. I think, in general, people tend to view worship as the singing of praises to the Lord, but Linda encouraged us to delve deeper into God's original intention for worship and the significance of his provision of a pattern for redemption drawn in the specific instructions for the tabernacle and temple. We began with Old Testament passages where the words "love," "obey" and "worship" were first used, in the story of Abraham's testing when God asked him to sacrifice his one and only son, Isaac. God clearly chose the place where this act of worship should take place. We then shifted to Old Testament passages containing God's specifications for the act of atoning for the sins of His people. Linda brought along a model of the tabernacle pieces and we were able to visualize exactly what such worship would have felt like.

 (photo courtesy of David Tooley)
 (photo courtesy of David Tooley)
(photo courtesy of David Tooley)

In the midst of these discussions, we thought about David's insistence on paying full price for the land God selected for the temple, not wanting to give a sacrifice to God that cost him nothing. Linda emphasized God's desire to dwell with His people and His presence filling the temple. Of course, the temporary (tabernacle) was merely a pattern for the permanent (temple), which was a pattern for the eternal (Christ's sacrifice tearing the veil, destroying the temple, and raising from the dead to provide eternal life for all believers). Finally, we focused on the priesthood of believers and our ability to approach God with boldness directly (the external becoming internal and the letter of the law shifting to heart change). With new eyes, we studied the importance of worshiping in spirit and in truth through full obedience and devotion. There were several moments during the class where the spirit of the Lord was tangible and real.

For my workshop, I selected a class on Trusting God Even When Life Hurts (based on the book by Jerry Bridges), led by Major Ruth Fay. I will review the book separately, but gained new insights into the purpose and meaning of suffering through this class. I don't think I had ever thought so intensely about the sovereignty of God (something I have personally questioned when faced with trials in life). I appreciated that the discussions never dissolved into arguments about what and why God allows tragedies to play out in the sphere of our world. The homework pages helped me work through the ideas presented in the book.

When we were not in classes, our free times were primarily taken up with Trevor's focus on fishing. He entered the longest fish competition and ended up taking first place. I think everyone was at a disadvantage this year because of the recent flooding in the area. The pier we normally fish from had broken off and floated to the middle of the lake. It had been retrieved and was wheeled up onto the side of the lake, but without the pier's availability, everyone had to fish where the weeds were thick and the fish less plentiful. Still, Trevor managed to catch a ten inch fish. We were able to determine the length because he took this photo against the square portion of his t-shirt (next year, we'll have to remember to bring a ruler or yard stick).

Several times, we ventured into town to buy lures and live bait. During one of those trips, Trevor purchased a pair of alien sunglasses that became his trademark accessory for the week. He had a blast fishing and hanging out with his friends.

(photo courtesy of Kim Suydam)

(photo courtesy of Christina Joy)

As we drove home from camp (quite a feat since we were hindered by a stopped train, causing us to get lost, an accident diverting traffic, and then the standard slow movement on the highways home), we both reflected on God's rich blessings this year. Now that Trevor is joining the junior high football team, I'm not sure we will manage next year again. If we do, it will be our 20th year, Sean's first in the tween track, and Trevor's last in the tween track.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: Death of a Travelling Man

Some of my reasons for selecting books run shallow. For this book, M.C. Beaton's Death of a Travelling Man, I selected the audio book simply for the minimal length. At only four CDs long, I was able to complete the listening experience in the five short days I had of treadmill walking between my time at music camp and my departure for CBLI. Even though it will not rank as a favorite mystery, it was enjoyable enough and the Scottish accent of the narrator, Davina Porter, was delightful.

This is book number nine in Beaton's 33-book-long Hamish Macbeth series. Police constable Hamish Macbeth traces much mischief back to the arrival of traveller Sean Gourlay, yet he cannot pin any tangible crimes on the man. When Gourlay turns up murdered, Hamish must sort through air-tight alibis, tangled webs of intrigue, and neighborly naughtiness.

While it did indeed hold my attention and provide an interesting enough tale, I don't feel compelled to seek out the other books (although my library has six others available in audio form and if they are also short, might show up on my list when circumstances dictate my listening window again). But, if you are seeking short mysteries set in the Scottish highlands or prefer to listen to books narrated with a Scottish accent, this series might be right up your alley.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Book Review: Through the Eyes of Hope

Last week, I picked up Through the Eyes of Hope, by Lacey Buchanan. As soon as I saw the cover of this book prominently displayed at our library, I remembered watching the touching You Tube video this mother made in defense of her child.

Born with a severely cleft palate and without eyes, Lacey's son Christian is a testament to the value of every individual, no matter their appearance or disability. Lacey's story highlights her growth from timid, sidelined mother to bold, involved advocate. I could not help but walk a mile in her shoes as she told of doctors who felt they knew better how to meet her child's needs (especially frustrating, the physical surgeon who insisted her son needed highly invasive surgery despite a team of other doctors ruling the surgery unnecessary). Moreover, what parent can't imagine how devastating the stares and comments of strangers could be. Yet, there are those in this world who begrudge Lacey the right to raise her disabled son. They are the unfortunate ones, because they will never be able to see the beauty God instills in His most fragile vessels. Kudos to Lacey for telling her story (with the assistance of Bethany Jett) and inspiring other parents of special needs children with hope for their journey.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Another Beautiful Wedding

On the heels of Music Camp, we headed up to the Chicago area to attend my niece's wedding. Kari and Clayton dated for seven years, so it really felt like the culmination of years' worth of anticipation as they entered into this covenant relationship. My brother gave an outstanding address, focused on the sacrificial nature of love. It was fun to see family and celebrate the grand occasion together.

(My nephew, Eric, with the mother of the bride, Miriam)

(Kari's entrance on my brother David's arm)

(Photo credit: Erika Morris)

(Photo credit: Erika Morris)

(Photo credit: Erika Morris)

(Photo credit: Heidi Bailey)