Thursday, July 7, 2022

Book Review: The Lost Quilter

Jennifer Chiaverini often weaves historical context into her stories of human relationship. In The Lost Quilter, book 14 in the Elm Creek Quilts series, letters found in the attic set Sylvia Bergstrom Compson on a quest to discover the truth about a runaway slave harbored at Elm Creek in 1859. One of Sylvia's heirloom quilts holds the keys to discovering more about African American quilting during the Civil War. The back cover proclaims, "A gripping story of steadfast determination in the face of unthinkable cruelty." I struggled with this one because man's inhumanity to man hammered blow after blow. 

It was a tough book to listen to and not squirm in the shoes of the main character. The atrocities were overwhelming and unrelenting: slaves callously separated from loved ones, beaten for indiscretions of others, and injured for every attempt to reclaim their dignity. I understand that this litany of offenses is based on realities many individuals actually endured. Yet, I wonder whether it heaps countless evils experienced by many onto the shoulders of one character, thus magnifying the evil and minimizing the good. I ached for more redemption in the story, for light amid the darkness. Instead, Joanna experiences despicable cruelty time after time. Indeed, the Bergstroms were the only ones who showed any compassion or kindness to the main character. In the end, it just wasn't my favorite from the series.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Celebrating Old Friends and New

When you have good news and few to share it with, you realize how isolated you have become. My first book of poetry, Watching the Wayward: Psalms for Parents of Prodigals, finally released in paperback form on Amazon on June 7th. It has reminded me of the value of friendship. I was hesitant to return to my writer's group to share the news of my book because I had not attended since the pandemic shut things down. It felt wrong to attend now that I have good news to share, but then... if I didn't share it there with like-minded individuals who would celebrate with me, where else could I share? 

My heart is full because one individual bought the book to place in our local library and another wrote a kind review on the Amazon page. In the days leading up to the launch, I promoted the book on Facebook, but since I have less than 400 friends, my net is small. Still, I cannot express how grateful I am for those who posted photos of my book, with links, saying "Look! I got Wendy Gorton Hill's new book." Each extra bit of publicity helps and I appreciate every share.

But, in all of this, I think my deepest blessing is in the connections I am making with other parents on a similar walk to mine. Several of my friends wrote to say, "This book came just at the right time because we're struggling with a wayward child." Now, I'm also receiving words from individuals I don't even know who friend me on Facebook, and when I ask the connection, they reply they are reading my book. How cool is that? Besides gratitude, it opens up a chance for me to extend my prayer list to dozens of names of parents with prodigals. I now keep a running prayer list.

One such person, a pastor's wife, contacted me recently to share her story. Her daughter, sent on a mission, returned home confused and depressed. The daughter rejected her faith and headed down a wayward path, taking the son along in solidarity. These stories break my heart. The world is full of parents grieving harmful choices of rebelling children. They ache for restoration. This mother spoke of missing the fellowship she once shared with her daughter, discussing spiritual growth. She likened it to a "miscarriage." She was bringing her child into God's kingdom, and then the path abruptly stopped with progress aborted.

I will forever be grateful for all the parents who express how the book has blessed them and reminded them that God is watching while they're waiting for their child's return to the fold. It validates my decision to do what was necessary to make the book available. My joy is also full because of renewed friendships. One college roommate, Anne, reconnected and even came for a weekend visit. 


What fun we had reminiscing about those youthful days. We commiserated over shared struggles and anxieties. We took a day trip down to Nashville, Indiana and walked the streets filled with quaint shops. Chatting on the back porch, we caught each other up on years spent apart. Once again, I say, if this book nets nothing else, it is growing my prayer list, reinvigorating old friendships, introducing new ones, and providing connection where my spokes had broken (like this old post from 2011).  

Thursday, June 30, 2022

2022 - Second Quarterly Review

To assist my blog readers, I summarize my reading four times a year, providing a brief description, the page count, and a grading scale (💖5 thumbs up - highly recommend, 4 thumbs up - enjoyed, 3 thumbs up - good, 2 thumbs up - meh, and 1 thumb down - regret, wishing I could get back the time invested). I read the following books during the second quarter of 2022 (links to full reviews can be found in the side-bar, or after 2022, found through the search bar at the right):

The Quilter's Legacy by Jennifer Chiaverini - Sylvia Bergstrom Compson goes on a quest to find her deceased mother's quilts, learning much about her heritage and her heart along the way. 336 pages (I listened in audio form, 9 CDs, 10-1/2 hours), 👍👍👍

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett - A collection of essays about relationships, writing, and reading. Writers should be sure to read "To the Doghouse" for its humorous take on writing lessons from Snoopy. 320 pages, 👍👍👍👍

Circle of Quilters by Jennifer Chiaverini - Elm Creek Quilt Camp seeks two new instructors. Who will get the jobs? 338 pages (I listened in audio form, 9 CDs, 10-1/4 hours), 👍👍👍-1/2

Walter the Farting Dog: Banned from the Beach by William Kotzwinkle - This is the final book in a hilarious series that follows a dog with a flatulence problem who saves the day despite his difficulties. 34 pages, 👍👍👍

The Master Quilter by Jennifer Chiaverini - Secrets abound as the Elm Creek quilters gather blocks for a surprise wedding quilt for Sylvia. 352 pages (I listened in audio form, 9 CDs, 10-3/4 hours), 👍👍👍

Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood - A children's novel in verse about a young boy stranded in a lifeboat after his ship is torpedoed during the war. Clear demonstration of the tangible power of story. 336 pages (I listened in audio form, 3 CDs, 3-1/2 hours), 👍👍👍-1/2

Out of the Rain by V.C. Andrews (ghostwritten by Andrew Neiderman) - Saffron flees Hurley to seek out her father, who once again abandons her anew by insisting she pose as his orphaned niece instead of acknowledging her as his daughter. 291 pages, 👍👍

I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away by Bill Bryson - As The Wall Street Journal declares, "Wonderfully droll... Bryson is unparalleled in his ability to cut a culture off at the knees in a way that is so humorous and so affectionate that those being ridiculed are laughing too hard to take offense." Or from The Chicago Sun-Times, "Bryson could write an essay about dryer lint or fever reducers and still make us laugh out loud." 288 pages (I listened to an abridged audio version, 5 CDs, 6 hours), 👍👍👍👍-1/2

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith - In this 13th installment, Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi encounter many troubles, but face them with the assistance of the "famous" Clovis Andersen. 289 pages (I listened, with book in hand, on Hoopla, 10-1/2 hours), 👍👍👍-1/2

The Quilter's Homecoming by Jennifer Chiaverini - Book ten in the series, like the others, weaves quilts and conflicts into a tapestry of intrigue. 336 pages (I listened in audio form, 9 CDs, 10 hours), 👍👍👍

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson - Publisher's Weekly writes of this British travelogue, "Immensely entertaining... Bryson's trenchant, witty, and detailed observations on a variety of towns and villages will delight Anglophiles." 324 pages (I listened to an abridged audio version, 5 CDs, 6 hours), 👍👍👍👍-1/2

With Love from London by Sarah Jio - "When a woman inherits her estranged mother's bookstore in London..." - hooked from the start. 367 pages, 👍👍👍

The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse by Alexander McCall Smith - An English girl, an American pilot, a rescued dog, and a German soldier all converge in a sweet story of friendship during wartime. 369 pages, 👍👍👍-1/2

Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era by Sterling North - Set in 1918 Wisconsin, recounts the adventures of a 12-year-old boy and his pet raccoon. Great nostalgic feel. Tender story. 193 pages (I listened in audio form, 4 CDs, 4-1/4 hours), 👍👍👍-1/2

Every Day in Tuscany by Frances Mayes - Excellent choice for those who love Italy - its food, artists, and atmosphere - and poetry. 271 pages (I listened in audio form, 7 CDs, 9-1/6 hours), 👍👍👍

Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson - Not as wholesome as the other two in my set, but the section on Italy was marvelous. 254 pages (I listened in abridged audio form, 5 CDs, 6 hours), 👍👍-1/2

There and Back: Photographs from the Edge by Jimmy Chin - Marvelous photographs of adventures with a National Geographic photographer - an eye-feast! 309 pages, 👍👍👍👍

Encouragement in the Waiting (For Your Prodigal to Return to God) by Tami Winkelman - Small doses of encouragement to fortify you in your journey with a rebellious or wayward child. Loved the emphasis on scripture and prayer. 245 pages, 👍👍👍👍-1/2

Monday, June 27, 2022

Book Review: Encouragement in the Waiting

Parenting a prodigal can be daunting. Plus, it often feels as if the trial will never end. You wait and wait for your son or daughter to turn from their bad choices and their ruinous paths. The only thing that keeps me going is scripture and prayer. Thus, I valued the heavy emphasis on those two weapons in Tami Winkelman's newest book, Encouragement in the Waiting (For Your Prodigal to Return to God).

With bite-sized doses of encouragement, jam-packed with fortifying scripture passages, Winkelman reminds parents to never give up. I appreciated her observations. Guilt over less-than-productive parenting often cripples us. Yet, God placed our prodigals in our families for a purpose and knew full well our weaknesses and short-comings. We will never be enough for the task, but God always is! I loved her reminder to use prayer as a first line of defense. In the middle of the book, she offers a valuable list of suggested prayers of blessings to speak over your prodigal. She counters common lies of the enemy and emphasizes the powerful weapon of praise. If you are discouraged in what seems an unending battle, this book will strengthen your resolve in your retaliation against the enemy. Or check out Tami's previous book, Fighting for Your Prodigal Through Prayer: 365 Promises, Praises, and Prayers.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

2,000th Post - 100 Armchair Travel Books


Lately, I've been travelling from the comfort of my sofa to many a distant land and time. In my 2,000th post on my blog, I decided to cull 100 titles of books that will take you to a different place. Of course, all books take you places you may have never been. This compilation really is just a list of 100 suggested reads in that light. Instead of only listing travelogues, I have included books that immerse you in another locale and another historical moment. This was a time-consuming post to explore (after 15 years of blogging), so instead of listing the books in categories by places, I've just listed them in roughly reverse chronological order to when I read them. Whatever your particular interests (I'm heavy on Victorian England in this listing), I hope you'll submerge yourself in something new:

  1. There and Back - travelogue coffee table book - various death-defying climbs
  2. Neither Here Nor There - travelogue - Europe
  3. Every Day in Tuscany - memoir - Tuscany/Italy
  4. With Love from London - novel - London, England
  5. Notes from a Small Island - travelogue - England
  6. The World Played Chess - novel - Vietnam War
  7. Facing the Mountain - history - WWII (internment camps)
  8. The Last Bookshop in London - novel - WWII (London)
  9. It Happened at the Fair - novel - 1893 Chicago World's Fair
  10. Green Hills of Africa - memoir - Africa
  11. Twilight at the World of Tomorrow - history - 1939 New York World's Fair
  12. The River of Doubt - history - the Amazon (the River of Doubt in Brazil)
  13. The Library Book -  history - 1986 San Francisco Library fire
  14. We Dream of Space - middle grade novel - 1986 Challenger mission
  15. Destiny of the Republic - history - 1880s America, President Garfield
  16. The Five - history - Victorian London, Jack the Ripper
  17. A Moveable Feast - memoir - Paris
  18. For the Love of Europe - travelogue - Europe
  19. The Splendid and the Vile - history - WWII England, Winston Churchill
  20. The Wicked Boy - history - Victorian England
  21. Walking Home - travelogue - The Pennine Way, England
  22. Surprised by Oxford - memoir - Oxford, England
  23. The Lost Girls of Paris - novel - London/Paris in WWII
  24. An Ocean, an Airplane, and Two Countries Full of Kisses - memoir - America/Italy
  25. Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey - history - Highclere Castle, England
  26. All the Flowers in Paris - novel - Paris
  27. On the Wings of Heroes - middle grade novel - small town USA WWII
  28. Out of the Dust - middle grade novel - American "Dust Bowl" in the Depression
  29. Love and Other Consolation Prizes - novel - 1909 Seattle World's Fair
  30. The Tattooist of Auschwitz - novel - Auschwitz concentration camp
  31. Little Heathens - memoir - Iowa in Depression
  32. Last Christmas in Paris - novel - Paris
  33. The Chilbury Ladies' Choir - novel - WWII England
  34. Hiking Through - memoir/travelogue - Appalachian trail
  35. Nights of Rain and Stars - novel - Greek seaside village
  36. Prairie Fires - history - early American prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder
  37. Victoria - history - Victorian England, Queen Victoria
  38. P.S. from Paris - novel - Paris
  39. The London Eye Mystery - middle grade novel - London
  40. Sisterchicks Go Brit! - novel - England
  41. London - history - London
  42. The Light in the Ruins - novel - WWII Italy
  43. Three Weeks in Paris - novel - Paris
  44. The Secret Life of Bees - novel - 1960s Southern US
  45. The Girl from the Train - novel - WWII Germany
  46. The Nightingale - novel - WWII France
  47. Burial Rites - novel - 1829 Iceland
  48. Revolution - young adult novel - revolutionary France
  49. The Summer Before the War - novel - WWII, Rye, England
  50. The Road to Little Dribbling - travelogue - England
  51. A Faraway Island - middle grade novel - 1939 Sweden
  52. The Invention of Wings - novel - 19th century Charleston, South Carolina
  53. Wonderland Creek - novel - 1936 Appalachian Kentucky
  54. A Night Divided - middle grade novel - Berlin Wall
  55. The Carnival at Bray - young adult novel - 1990s Bray, Ireland
  56. A Metropolitan Murder - history - 1860s London
  57. The Victorian City - history - Victorian London
  58. A Girl Named Zippy - memoir - small town Indiana
  59. Dirty Old London - history - Victorian London
  60. Kidnapped by River Rats - history - Salvation Army in 1880s London
  61. Dead Wake - history - WWI, sinking of the Lusitania
  62. Revolution - middle grade novel - 1964 Freedom Summer Mississippi
  63. The Boys in the Boat - history - 1936 Berlin Olympics
  64. Lily's Crossing - middle grade novel - 1940s United States
  65. Criss Cross - middle grade novel - 1960s United States
  66. Countdown - middle grade novel - 1960s American Cuban Missile Crisis
  67. Number the Stars - middle grade novel - WWII Sweden
  68. The Songs of Willow Frost - novel - 1920s & 30s Seattle, Washington
  69. A Northern Light - young adult novel - 1906 New York murder
  70. Out of the Easy - young adult novel - 1950s New Orleans
  71. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - novel - Southern tip of England
  72. One Thousand White Women - novel - 1854 Fort Laramie Peace Conference
  73. All the Light We Cannot See - novel - WWII France
  74. Tallgrass - novel - WWII Japanese-American internment camps
  75. The Dressmaker - novel - sinking of the Titanic
  76. Tara Road - novel - Dublin
  77. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - novel - English walking tour
  78. A Week in Winter - novel - Stoneybridge, Ireland
  79. Blackmoore - novel - 1820s Northern England
  80. The View from Castle Rock - memoir - early Irish immigrants
  81. Under a Flaming Sky - history - 1894 Hinckley, Minnesota fire
  82. Unbroken - history - Japanese POW camp WWII survival story
  83. In the Garden of Beasts - history - Hitler's Berlin
  84. Yielded Captive - novel - jungles of Peru
  85. Whitethorn Woods - novel - Rossmore, Ireland
  86. The House I Loved - novel - 1860s Paris
  87. Breaking the Code - history - the Japanese Katakama Code
  88. Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes - young adult novel - England/Europe
  89. Minding Frankie - novel - Dublin
  90. The Help - novel - 1960s Jackson, Mississippi
  91. The Pleasing Hour - novel - Paris
  92. The Postmistress - novel - WWII New England town
  93. Year of Wonders - novel - 1666 rural England plague
  94. The Book Thief - novel - WWII Germany
  95. Ruby's Imagine - young adult novel - New Orleans Hurricane Katrina
  96. The Case of Madeleine Smith - history - Victorian Scotland
  97. The Aurora County All-Stars - middle grade novel - small town Mississippi
  98. The Weight of Heaven - novel - India
  99. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - novel - WWII Guernsey
  100. Three Weeks With My Brother - memoir - trip around the world

Monday, June 20, 2022

Book Review: There and Back

I once dreamed of parasailing off a mountain. Ha! Stark evidence enough that my inner life has shifted over the years! Gone are the days of such outlandish quests. Today, I dream of driving on unfamiliar streets without going into panic mode. But books take you places from the comfort of your armchair. And, when experienced vicariously, you know for sure you will make it "there and back," the goal of every intrepid mountain climber. As Brie Larson observes on the back cover, "Many of us will never risk our lives to see what Jimmy Chin sees, but in these pages, his photography will transport you to the razor's edge, challenging your perceptions of what humans can achieve." So grateful Jimmy Chin accomplished what I would deem impossible.

This coffee table photography book is marvelous! My favorite photos in the book all reflected specific times of day in dual-page spreads. On pages 78-79, I loved the photo of the mountain top set against a deep blue sky background and half-moon shimmering in the distance. On pages 226-227, the starry night above mountain peaks contrasts the bright colors of the tents. A similar nighttime scene captured on 250-251 shows another starry night set against the brilliance of an erupting volcano. Amazing! One photo from the tip of the One World Trade Center is mind-boggling. This book opens eyes to sights you will never see on your own two feet, but can take in, with wonder, from the comfort of your home. I think I'll continue this armchair travel theme!

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Book Review: Neither Here Nor There

This third installment from the audio set I purchased for a buck at Goodwill was not as satisfying as the other two. This time around, I was glad it was an abridged version. While the book maintained the usual level of humor, it ventured into crude territory to get there. The seedy underbelly of European cities might make things humorous, but at the expense of listeners who prefer clean reads. I set it aside but was without another audio book, so I reluctantly picked it up again. If I hadn't, I would have missed the sections devoted to Italy. I may have loved Rome, but based on Bryson's descriptions, I would enjoy other parts of that glorious country as well. His descriptions of Naples, Sorrento, and Capri were alluring, but I'm thrilled I dodged his experience of being pick-pocketed in Florence (I had heard that street thieves were relentless). One day, maybe, I'll get back to Italy and do a full-fledged tour.

Content Caution: 📒 - drugs, language, sex