Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cream cheese fudge

The Christmas season brings to mind all the special goodies we enjoy preparing. Have you ever eaten cream cheese fudge? Here's a recipe my sister and I used to enjoy making when we were teens. It's quick and yummy and doesn't require cooking (except for melting the chocolate in the microwave).

1 -3 oz. pkg. regular cream cheese, softened at room temperature
2 C. sifted powdered sugar
1 -1 oz. squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/4 tsp. vanilla
Dash of salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Place cheese in a bowl and cream until soft and smooth. Slowly blend in sugar, then melted chocolate. Mix well. Add vanilla, salt and pecans. (If you want a slightly softer fudge, blend in a teaspoon of cream.) Mix until well blended then press into a well-greased shallow pan. Refrigerate until firm. Cut into squares.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

LESS THAN DEAD, by Tim Downs

Imagine a suspense novel featuring a forensic entomologist--a "bug man." Then imagine a suspense novel that keeps you chuckling--when you're not holding your breath wondering what will happen next. If you've got that picture in your mind, you're ready to dive into Downs' Less Than Dead.
A portion of Virginia countryside is being cleared in preparation for the building of a regional shopping center. In the process, a bulldozer uncovers an ancient graveyard, with a less-than-ancient corpse buried atop an existing coffin. Enter Nick Polchak, an entomologist who should have been a stand-up comedian.
As the investigation progresses, Nick calls on the help of a woman believed by the locals to be a witch who is able to talk to dogs. Nick's meeting with the witch, and their subsequent encounters, add depth to a story which has a timely political side. Less Than Dead kept me turning pages way past my bedtime.
This is one terrific story, and fortunately it is part of a series. I wish I'd discovered author Tim Downs a long time ago. I can’t wait to read more of Nick Polchak's adventures, along with Downs' other novels.
Less Than Dead is written for the inspirational market, so is blessedly free of objectionable material. Read and enjoy.

Monday, November 29, 2010


The Preacher's Bride is set in England in 1659, a time when Puritans were persecuted for their simple Christian faith. Elizabeth Whitbread is a dutiful Puritan girl who lives out her beliefs in acts of service to others.
When John Costin's wife dies of childbed fever, Elizabeth steps in at risk to herself to try to save the life of the woman's newborn baby. John is one who was called to preach the word of God, no matter the danger involved. He's too absorbed in his grief and his ministry to pay much attention to either the baby or his older children.
There's much church history in this novel--most of which I didn't know. Hedlund does a remarkable job of taking the reader to early England and describing the lives of commoners. I was fascinated by all the details of village life, especially the pecking order from aristocrats to laborers.
Elizabeth and John are caught in the midst of the political upheaval that led Puritans to flee England for America--an event we remember now with our Thanksgiving celebrations.
Hedlund has adapted the life of John Bunyan to tell the story of The Preacher's Bride. Reading about Elizabeth and John gave Pilgrim's Progress a greater impact for me. I recommend this book, but suggest that some of the violent scenes might be too intense for younger readers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

MORE THAN WORDS, by Judith Miller

Although she lives in one of the villages of the Amana colonies, Gretchen Kohler dreams of being an author. A dear friend supplies her with notebooks in which to record her thoughts, but this friend is the only person who seems to care about her writing.
Her father has been distant and stern since her mother died, and her childhood sweetheart, Conrad, is a pragmatic man who doesn't pay attention to the person Gretchen really is. To top things off, she's saddled with the care of her senile grandmother, who often mistakes Conrad for her deceased husband.
One day a salesman comes to the store where Gretchen works, and notices her writing in a journal. He’s impressed by what he sees, and his interest leads Gretchen down a path she'd never have imagined. The consequences impact the entire colony.
In More Than Words, Miller follows her initial volume in the Daughters of Amana series, Somewhere to Belong, with further fascinating glimpses into the early Amana colonies. This novel was enjoyable on many levels. I recommend it to readers who enjoy family-friendly stories set around lifestyles different than our own.
My thanks to Bethany House for providing my review copy.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

WRITERS [ON WRITING], Collected Essays from The New York Times

Writers [on Writing] contains essays from forty-six contemporary authors reflecting on what impels a writer to write. Some of the essays are hilarious--how could Carl Hiaasen be anything but funny?
Some are deeply serious, as is Elie Wiesel's piece titled, "A Sacred Magic Can Elevate the Secular Storyteller," in which he tells of his struggles in trying to put the Holocaust into words. He says, "I felt incapable and perhaps unworthy of fulfilling my task as survivor and messenger. I had things to say but not the words to say them."
As a writer, I was able to identify with sections of many of the essays. One, by Carolyn Chute entitled, "How Can You Create Fiction When Reality Comes to Call?" had me laughing out loud. Ms. Chute begins the piece with waking up in the morning filled with ideas and ambition to write, then details each interruption in her day. There are many of them. Babies, dogs, husband, UPS man, friends. By the end, it's four in the afternoon and she hasn't written a word. A friend drops by, one of many during the day, and as she tells it:
"'How’s your book coming along?' Pete asks. I laugh."
End of essay.
I read Writers [on Writing] over a couple of months, one essay at a time, so I'd have the opportunity to think about each one. For writers, the messages shared in this book are inspirational in the sense that we recognize our own foibles in other authors, which somehow makes us seem normal.
I'd recommend Writers [on Writing] even to people who have no interest in writing, but love reading. The insights in this volume will enrich the time you spend with books. And for writers--run out a buy a copy. It's a keeper.
If you've read it, please let me know which essays were your favorites.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

IN EVERY HEARTBEAT, by Kim Vogel Sawyer

In Every Heartbeat explores the lives of three best friends who grew up in the same orphanage and have been granted scholarships to the same college. Libby Conley’s heart’s desire is to become a journalist. The other two orphans, Pete Leidig and Bennett Martin, have conflicting plans. Pete has always dreamed of being a pastor, while all Bennett wants to do is belong somewhere—no matter what the cost.

During the course of her goal to excel at journalism, Libby makes a shocking discovery that threatens Pete’s ambitions. This discovery sends each of the three friends down unexpected paths. The twists the story takes from this point will keep the reader engrossed.

In Every Heartbeat examines the hurts that Libby, Pete and Bennett carry within that propel them toward their diverse goals. The novel is set just prior to World War One, and Sawyer adds excellent detail to make the time period come alive. Fans of Sawyer’s historical fiction will fall in love with In Every Heartbeat.

I love the cover picture! If you’ve already read this book, I’d love to hear from you with your thoughts on the story.

(My thanks to Bethany House for providing my review copy.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

CHOOSING TO SEE, by Mary Beth Chapman with Ellen Vaughn

Subtitled, "A Journey of Struggle and Hope," Choosing to SEE is Mary Beth Chapman's story of her life. When I first received the book, I expected it to be about the Chapman family's tragic loss of their daughter Maria in 2008.

Choosing to SEE is that, but it's so much more. Mary Beth begins her story with her growing-up years. She tells of her life in candid fashion, which makes her a real person rather than merely the wife of a Christian music artist. Her personal struggles will strike a chord with many readers.

The driving force behind Choosing to SEE is her honesty. As she says more than once, her life is nothing like what she had planned. She introduces the reader to her husband, Steven Curtis Chapman, as a young man struggling with career choices, and her own struggles learning to be a wife. The book details the births of their children, then goes on to share what first interested them in adopting children from China.

The book turns from narrative to short personal reflections in the second half. Mary Beth strives to make sense of what has happened in her family, sharing thoughts and feelings with which many who have lost a loved one will identify. As she grows in her understanding of God's ways, her words bring hope to her readers. Choosing to SEE is a profound story of one woman's search for God in the midst of darkness. You will finish the book feeling you've had a glimpse into her soul.

Monday, October 11, 2010

LADY IN WAITING, by Susan Meissner

Lady in Waiting is the story of two Janes, separated by centuries. Jane Lindsay is an antiques dealer in Manhattan, comfortable in her twenty-two year marriage--until the day her husband leaves. Soon afterward, she discovers a jeweled ring in a shipment of antiques from England. The name inscribed inside the band is "Jane."
Jane Lindsay is captivated by her find, and here Lady in Waiting takes the reader to 16th century England and the life of Lady Jane Gray. At its heart, Lady in Waiting is a novel about the choices each Jane is forced to make. Both stories are fascinating. It's hard to say which one I enjoyed most.
Meissner is a gifted author. I loved her earlier book, The Shape of Mercy, which also shifts between time periods. Her novels are a delight for both those who enjoy the skilled use of language,and anyone looking for an absorbing read.
I wholeheartedly recommend Lady in Waiting.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Touching the Clouds is a strong story about the surprises God has in store for Kate Evans as she pursues her dream of being a bush pilot in Alaska. Kate is a headstrong young woman whose desire for adventure pulls her away for her Washington state home and into an encounter with a mysterious stranger in the Alaskan bush.
Through rich descriptions, Leon immerses the reader in Depression-era America, the time period in which the novel is set. I loved the details about Alaskan life that fill Touching the Clouds.
Leon writes with her heart, and that skill shines through in her prose. If you’re looking for a fast-moving novel filled with believable characters, I recommend Touching the Clouds.

My thanks to Revell for providing me with my review copy.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

RIVER RISING, by Athol Dickson

River Rising opens with a scene in 1927 Louisiana, featuring an unnamed man poling his pirogue up the fog-covered Mississippi River toward a tiny town. From the start, his appearance and demeanor attract attention.
Dickson's opening had me from the first page. Soon we learn the stranger is Reverend Hale Poser, come to Pilotville to find his roots. His righteous soul is disturbed by what he sees of the community's hypocrisy. Whites and blacks exist more or less harmoniously during the week, but on Sunday they separate to their individual churches.
When Hale Poser takes a job as janitor in Pilotville's Negro Infirmary, it's not long before rumors of his ability to heal circulate through the community. Is he a miracle worker? The evidence is hard to deny.
Then a baby is kidnapped from the Infirmary, and Hale takes it upon himself to find her when others have given up. Where River Rising proceeds from that point is startling and oh-so realistic. Dickson is a masterful writer, as proved by River Rising being awarded the Christy Award for suspense in 2006.
For those who say they never read Christian fiction because it's insipid, I say read Athol Dickson's work. He’ll change your opinion.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A CLAIM OF HER OWN, by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Mattie O'Keefe is on the run. Her destination is Deadwood, South Dakota, where her brother, Dillon, has a gold-mining claim. Mattie's plan is to hide from her past--a past which is on her trail, seeking vengeance.
In Deadwood, she finds more than gold. Friendship and salvation beckon if she will accept them. However, she's been so damaged by her past that she believes no one would want to be her friend if they knew her story. The friend she holds at the greatest distance is the Lord. In A Claim of Her Own, Whitson has written an entertaining tale about a rugged time in South Dakota's history.
Whitson doesn’t sugar-coat the conditions Mattie finds in Deadwood when she arrives. The descriptions leave little to the imagination. I loved this story for its unflinching look at what people can become with no law and no God.
A Claim of Her Own has a strong spiritual message, and one of the clearest explanations of coming to faith that I've ever read (see page 287). Except for a deus ex machina scene near the ending, this story held my interest throughout.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

THE DOGFATHER, by Susan Conant

The Dogfather is subtitled, "A Dog Lover's Mystery," and indeed it is. Emphasis more on "dog lovers" than mystery, at least in the case of The Dogfather.
This story was fun to read, as are all of her books. Conant writes with humor and special insight into the life of a dog owner. In The Dogfather, protagonist Holly Winter has received an offer she can't refuse: help a Mafia boss train his new Elkhound puppy.
Before long, Holly finds herself in the middle of a family vendetta between two rival mob bosses. Mixed in with the likable owner of the puppy are parodies of mob stereotypes, and a potential romance with an old boyfriend.
Holly's own dogs of choice are Alaskan malamutes, Rowdy and Kimi. Since I'm a dog person, the scenes with the pups kept me chuckling. It took a while for the mystery portion of the book to kick in, but with the humor in Conant's writing it almost didn't matter.
I've read several of Conant's dog lover's mysteries, and enjoyed them all. The books are intended for the general market, and as such contain a sprinkling of salty language. If that's not an issue for you, by all means read The Dogfather, or any other Susan Conant books you come across. You'll enjoy them.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A HOPEFUL HEART, by Kim Vogel Sawyer

I've been out of town for a few weeks on a family matter, and am now resuming my "writing life," including blogs. It's with pleasure that I take up blogging again to review Kim Sawyer's A Hopeful Heart.
A Hopeful Heart is a gentle story of healing and forgiveness. The protagonist, Tressa Neill, is sent west to Wyatt Herdsman School as a dowryless girl. Her guardians, an aunt and uncle, believe that second best is good enough for their orphaned niece. The events that shape Tressa's life, as well as the lives of the other girls at the Herdsman School, run full spectrum from cooking for ranch hands to branding cattle. Sawyer's novel captures the essence of Kansas ranch life in the late 19th Century.
Since "Aunt" Hattie Wyatt's purpose in starting this school is to train girls to be ranchers' wives, there’s plenty of matchmaking going on while the girls learn ranching skills.
In A Hopeful Heart, Sawyer has woven a tale of a loving God's plans for each girl's future. The reader gets to participate in Aunt Hattie's faith as she shares her beliefs with those around her. This novel is a sweet romance with a strong Christian element, suitable for tween girls as well as their moms and grandmas.
My thanks to Bethany House for providing me with a copy for review.

Friday, July 16, 2010

THIRTEEN MOONS, by Charles Frazier

Thirteen Moons is, at its heart, Will Cooper's fictional autobiography. In the early years of the nineteenth century, when Will is twelve years old, he's given a horse, a key, and a map and sent out on his own as a bound boy. His destination will be a trading post in the Cherokee Nation.
Frazier opens the story with Will as an old man. The voice he uses to communicate Will's heart to the reader is perfect. As an example, here's Will's take on old age: "It’s a bad idea to live too long. Few carry it off well. But nevertheless, here I am. In retreat but still in play, so to speak."
Will becomes something of a legend as his life unrolls, and his decision to set the record straight is what propels him to write his autobiography.
I loved the language used in Thirteen Moons, and the historical details. The book takes the reader beyond superficial "history" and delves into minute details, both of the Cherokee way of life before they were herded off their land, and also into politics in the early days of Washington, DC.
The heart of the novel (no pun intended) is Will's love for the elusive Claire. To me, her character was not as believable as Will's. I felt Ada, in Cold Mountain (Frazier's first novel), was more thoroughly developed. However, since Thirteen Moons is Will's story, perhaps he could only describe what he perceives Claire to be.
I enjoyed Thirteen Moons, but found it slow going at times. It's a book written for the general market, so there are some language issues, as well as scattered sexual situations. I'd still recommend this novel based on Frazier's skill as an author. For me as a writer, writing as good as his is necessary reading, just to see how a master performs his art.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Deborah Vogts and her husband have three daughters and make their home in Southeast Kansas where they raise and train American Quarter Horses. As a student at Emporia State University studying English and journalism, Deborah developed a love for the Flint Hills that has never faded. In writing this series, she hopes to share her passion for one of the last tallgrass prairie regions in the world, showing that God's great beauty
rests on the prairie and in the hearts of those who live there. Visit Deborah at her web site:
http://deborahvogts.com or at her Country at Heart blog: http://deborahvogts.blogspot.com

When opposites attract, sparks fly--like an electrical malfunction. That's what happens when former rodeo queen Natalie Adams meets the new pastor in Diamond Falls. A heart-warming contemporary romance set in the Flint Hills of Kansas where a former rodeo queen abandons her
dreams in order to care for her deceased father's ranch and her two half-siblings, only to realize with the help of a young new pastor that God can turn even the most dire circumstances into seeds of hope. Spanning the Seasons of the Tallgrass, each story in this series reveals the struggle of the people who live there and the dreams they have for the land until they come full circle in a never-ending cycle, just as man comes full-circle in his understanding of God.

DEBORAH, HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A PUBLISHED AUTHOR? My debut book, Snow Melts in Spring, released in July 2009. It is the first book in the Seasons of the Tallgrass series, which are contemporary inspirational romance books published by Zondervan. Seeds of Summer came out in June.

I wanted to be a writer since I was in high school, and the dream stayed with me all this time. It wasn't until 2002 that I began taking serious steps to get to the goal. I joined a local writer's group and an online writing organization, ACFW. I joined a critique group, read writing how-to's and attended writing conferences. I met my first agent at a national writers' conference. We hit
it off at our meeting, and she gave me some tips on making my book series "bigger." I did that and submitted my idea to her and she took me on. We shopped my Seasons of the Tallgrass series for a year and had a few bites (one of them Zondervan) but no sale. In the end, she released me, which was a real heart breaker. However, we don’t always see the big picture like God does, and six months later I signed with agent, Rachelle Gardner with WordServe Literary, and we had an offer from Zondervan three months after that.

I LOVE IT WHEN THAT HAPPENS! TELL US, HOW ARE THE STORIES CONNECTED? The Seasons of the Tallgrass series is connected by the fictional ranching community of Diamond Falls, which is set in fictional Charris County, KS in the heart of the Flint Hills. Each book will stand alone, concentrating on a different season of ranching with a new family of characters, yet readers will see their favorite characters from previous books because they are part of the community.

For example, readers met Clara Lambert in the first book, and will get to read her story in book #3, Blades of Autumn. Also, many readers fell in love with John McCray, the grumpy old dad in Snow Melts in Spring. My plan is to bring him back in the fourth book with a sweet romance of his own. He’ll remain a secondary character, but in this way, I hope to bring the series full-circle to a satisfying end.

while we are in 4-H and raise and train American quarter horses, we've never had much opportunity for pageantry in this part of Kansas.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE A BOOK ABOUT MISS RODEO KANSAS? My husband and I read lots of horse magazines at our house, two of those, Western Horseman and AQHA’s America’s Horse. So, when he’s finished with a magazine, I’ll go through with an eye for possible story ideas. I’ll tear out pages of articles, or even pictures for possible characters, and then I’ll file those papers in an idea file.

When I’m ready to write a new story, that’s the first place I’ll go, sifting through the articles and pictures. So, to make a long story short, many of the pictures I’d filed away happened to be of past Miss Rodeo America queens. From there, my imagination soared. I began asking questions like, what if this happened? Or what if she did this? Plus, in creating the Seasons of the Tallgrass, each of the stories have a strong female character. For Snow Melts in Spring, you meet Mattie Evans, a large animal veterinarian, and in Blades of Autumn, you’ll read about Clara Lambert as she runs a small town cafe'. I knew I wanted to have one book that had a female rancher in it, and that’s how Natalie’s story was born in Seeds of Summer.

WILL NATALIE APPEAR IN FUTURE BOOKS IN THE SERIES? Yes, in the third book, we’ll visit Jared and Natalie again as their December wedding is planned. And then, hopefully, readers will be able to attend the event in the fourth book!

WAS IT HARD TO USE A RODEO SETTING? WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH DID YOU DO IN PREPARATION FOR THIS BOOK? A lot of online research, as well as all those articles I mentioned above. I also had a great deal of help from those at the Miss Rodeo America (MRA) headquarters who answered specific story questions and helped with possible story scenarios.

For instance, for Seeds of Summer, my scenario went like this: What happens when a former Miss Rodeo Kansas (and current MRA first-runner up) is forced to abandon her dreams and return home after her father’s death to care for the ranch and her two half-siblings? Then, just as she’s getting used to the change and her new circumstances, what would she do if she is suddenly called on to be Miss Rodeo America? What about the ranch? What about the kids? And what about the blossoming romance with the new pastor in town?

DeAnna Power, Raeana Wadhams, and Amy Wilson (MRA 2008) all helped a great deal in working out my scenario, as well as answering many small questions that would help lend au
thenticity to the story.

Because this part of Natalie’s life has already passed, I focused mainly on the facts. Where is the pageant held? When does her reign begin and end? Where might she go during her reign? How might she be involved after her reign, etc.?

WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE MISS RODEO AMERICA PAGEANT? Most of my research dealt with MRA. The story begins in Las Vegas with Natalie losing the pageant or winning first-runner up, depending on how you want to look at it. For her, it was a heartbreaker. Then the story jumps right in to her current dilemma after her father dies and she’s back at the ranch. Not only is she dealing with her father’s death, but also with having to give up her dreams. I dump a lot on this girl at the start of the story, so she has a great deal to overcome. But that’s what memorable stories are made of—people who overcome horrible odds, and become an even stronger person for it.

So back to your question, I learned a ton of information about the MRA—and loved every minute of it. I tacked pictures of past queens in various outfits on my storyboard (which is a bulletin board filled with pictures of my characters, their homes, pets, etc.). And because Amy Wilson was the current MRA, I followed her story online and in magazines, and strange as it may seem, I felt as though I knew her. LOL. My research pinnacled last summer when I met Amy at her home in Colby for an interview. She is such a lovely young woman, and she honored me by
showing me her queen items—which again, leant authenticity to my story.

Another thing I especially enjoyed was viewing the video clips online of the MRA pageant. This helped me so much with the closing of my story. Because I write in close 3rd person point of view, in my mind, I was living Natalie’s story, so at the end when she is on stage and reliving all that she’s overcome that year, tears just poured from my eyes. I felt like I was there--and I hope you will too. ;)

WERE THERE ANY SURPRISES YOU FOUND ABOUT RODEO PAGEANTS? Many things, actually. I was surprised at the amount of learning required for the interview portion. Good grief! How do these girls keep all that information in their heads! LOL. I am awed at the amount of expertise required to complete the horsemanship events. Riding with confidence on an animal you've never ridden before takes a LOT of skill and courage. And carrying those flags, and shining those boots (and blackening the bottoms of those heels). I greatly enjoyed viewing the various leather dresses—and imagining what Natalie would wear. So fun!

WHAT DO YOU HOPE READERS WILL TAKE FROM THIS STORY? I'd like readers to remember how important family relations are and that we can get through our difficulties if we remember to love and forgive each other. I also hope to give my readers a taste of the Flint Hills and of how God’s beauty rests on the prairie and in the hearts of those who live there. I pray that I've created a believable story that will take you through the highs and lows of Natalie’s summer, and that will bring tears of sadness and joy to your eyes. After all, it’s a story about family and love and conflict, and of ranching and horses, that’s topped off with the joy of being a queen. Who wouldn't love it!!!

Readers, please leave a comment with your email address in order to be entered into a drawing for a free copy of Seeds of Summer. The drawing will be held on Sunday, July 18.

Monday, July 5, 2010

SEEDS OF SUMMER, by Deborah Vogts

Seeds of Summer is a true-to-life story about family bonds. Set on a cattle ranch in the Flint Hills area of Kansas, Seeds of Summer reflects Vogts' love for the area and her knowledge of ranch life.
The story opens when the main character, Natalie Adams, is one of two finalists in the Miss Rodeo America competition. Natalie has spent years in preparation for this moment, and when she comes in second, she’s lost more than a contest--she’s lost her focus. To compound events, her father is killed soon after in a ranch accident.
Natalie is forced to leave college to be a full-time ranch owner and mother to her younger half-sister and brother. Parenting is never easy, especially with children who are acting out their grief for the father in rebellious ways.
Through her little brother, Natalie meets the new pastor in town--a man she suspects of making her little family his personal mission project. Vogts has incorporated the faith element organically, so that it never feels forced into the story.
Seeds of Summer is filled with realistic characters and situations. Vogts' use of a rodeo background adds depth and interest. I recommend this novel--and be sure to try the recipe for Chelsey's Spice Pancakes included in the back of the book. They’re delicious!
Deborah Vogts will appear as a guest on my blog tomorrow. Be sure to come back and leave a comment for a drawing to win a free copy of Seeds of Summer.
My thanks to Zondervan for providing me with a copy for review purposes.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

VANISH, by Tom Pawlik

I have to search for words to describe Vanish. It is such a gripping story that it defies description, at least by me.
Vanish begins as an almost other-worldly experience. Lawyer Conner Hayden senses he's being watched while working in his Chicago office on a Friday afternoon. That night, a powerful storm rocks the city, and when he awakens the next day Chicago is deserted.
Vanish concerns Hayden's efforts to find his daughter and make sense of what has happened. The story rolls forward as rapidly as the gray mists containing whispering silhouettes that follow him everywhere. To say more would take away from the many surprises that spring forth from each chapter. I was totally unprepared for the way Pawlik concluded the story. To call it thought-provoking is an understatement.
In 2008, Pawlik won Operation First Novel from the Christian Writers Guild, as well as a Christy award for Vanish. The awards were well-deserved. I can’t recommend Vanish highly enough.

Friday, June 18, 2010


In Scattered Petals, author Amanda Cabot continues her series set in the Texas town of Ladreville. Priscilla Morton and her parents are traveling from Boston to attend the wedding of Clay and Sarah, the couple who were drawn together by the love letters Clay wrote (think Cyrano de Bergerac) in the first book of the Texas Dreams series, Paper Roses.
The opening scenes in Scattered Petals are horrifying. Priscilla came west seeking adventure and instead found pain and heartbreak. When she meets Clay's ranch hand, Zach Webster, she’s so scarred by what has happened to her that she can hardly bear to look at him.
Zach is carrying scars of his own, hidden deep in his heart. How the two of them come to trust and love one another in spite of the mental barriers each has erected forms the basis for this touching story.
In spite of the violent opening, Scattered Petals is a sweet story. Cabot touches on difficult issues in a gentle, redeeming manner. I look forward to reading the third book in the series to learn what happens with Texas Ranger Lawrence Wood.
Special note to my followers—I’ve been gone on a research trip, then returned and left again to celebrate my daughter's birthday. So, no book blogs for too long. Look for the next one within a few days.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

SEEING THINGS, by Patti Hill

In Seeing Things, Patti Hill has crafted a memorable novel about multi-generational family issues. The plot centers around seventy-something Birdie Wainwright, an independent woman whose active life is curtailed by the onset of macular degeneration.

When she breaks an ankle due to her faulty vision, Birdie is forced to stay with her son and his ever-so-uptight wife. The bright side to her situation is her grandson, Fletcher, who rapidly becomes her ally in a cold and sterile household.

The back cover description made the story sound like a humorous romp, but I found it to be anything but. The family situations portrayed struck me as painfully real. My heart ached for poor Fletcher, and for Birdie, as she tries to bring love into a family at odds with one another.

On that level, Seeing Things is a compelling story. However, when Hill brought Birdie's hallucinations of Huckleberry Finn into the mix, I had a little trouble relating. I found myself skipping over the Huck portions to read the "real" story. Having said that, though, I’d still recommend Seeing Things. It contains one of the best family dramas I've read in a long time.

I'd love to hear from other readers as to their opinions about the "Huck parts." –Maybe it’s just me.

Friday, May 7, 2010

HUNTER'S MOON, by Don Hoesel

Hunter's Moon is a near-perfect story of a family hiding a dark past. Hoesel's hero, CJ Baxter, is a bestselling novelist, so as an author I especially enjoyed reading this book. CJ's ups and downs with his agent, critics, and sales numbers added an extra dimension to an already enjoyable plot.
The story opens with CJ leaving his home in Tennessee to travel to New York state to visit his dying grandfather. He leaves behind a fractured marriage and a lawsuit brought against him by a critic he assaulted. Once he reaches the family mansion overlooking his hometown, his return after seventeen years is met with barely veiled hostility.
CJ knows something that his brother, Graham, and their father have kept hidden since CJ was a boy. Graham is running for the Senate and isn't eager to have the family black sheep dig into family secrets. As the plot unfolds, we see how far the Baxter clan will go to hide those secrets.
In Hunter's Moon, Hoesel has given us a look at a believable protagonist—a man with flaws, doubts, and the courage to face his past. I look forward to reading more from this author.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

LOVING FRANK, by Nancy Horan

Loving Frank had been out for a couple of years before I got around to reading it. The book is a novelized version of the scandalous affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney.
Knowing nothing about their history, I was more curious about the architect's early life than I was about Mamah Cheney. Having lived for several years in the San Francisco Bay Area, I regularly drove past the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael. That beautiful building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, faces Highway 101 so I got a good look at it when traffic was slow.
In Loving Frank, Horan explains Wright's thinking in his design of the original Taliesin house in Wisconsin, which he built for himself and Mamah. As I read the book, I could picture the Marin Civic Center and understand his philosophy in the orientation of the building.
Loving Frank is, however, first and foremost a novel about two people who are irrevocably drawn to each other. Whatever I may think of their decision to leave their families and children to live together, there’s no denying the bond between them. At times the book bogged down in trying to explain Mamah as a person, whereas Frank Lloyd Wright is now such a legend that he was easier to understand.
The story moved right along, and kept me turning the pages. The ending was a stunner, since I knew nothing of their history before I read Loving Frank. In fact, I had to discipline myself not to Google them while I read so I could find out what happened. I’m glad I waited. If you read Loving Frank, I hope you do so without knowing "the rest of the story," so you can be as surprised as I was.
Loving Frank is general market fiction, and was on the bestseller lists. The historical details of Europe pre-World War One fascinated me. I liked the novel best for the look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s early life, but overall it was a good story. If you enjoy historical fiction written about real people, you’ll like Loving Frank.

Monday, April 19, 2010

SIXTEEN BRIDES, by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Sixteen Brides is a thoroughly engaging story of a group of Civil War widows who travel to Nebraska, lured by the prospect of free land. The premise for Sixteen Brides arose from an actual newspaper clipping in the Nebraska Historical Society archives, which made the plot even more fun for me.
Once the women arrive in Plum Grove, the last stop before their final destination in Cayote, they discover that they've been brought west as brides for the single men in the area. Not only that, the trip's organizer has already sold tickets for dances with the women when they arrive in Cayote.
For some of the sixteen widows, the thought of finding husbands is not unwelcome. But the others came strictly for the prospect of owning their own homestead land. The story follows those who stayed in Plum Grove as they sort out how they will settle on the nearly barren land.
Whitson has done a masterful job at juggling several points of view as we get to know each woman and some of the earlier settlers who have already made Plum Grove their home. By the time I'd finished the book, I was quite sure which lady was which from the depiction on the cover. The multiple story lines were resolved by the end of the story, with a few surprises. Whitson resisted the temptation to tie up each romance with a bow, and instead left some questions for the reader to fill in with their own imagination.
Sixteen Brides is a delightful story—one I’m happy to recommend.

Thanks to the author and Bethany House for providing my review copy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A DISTANT MELODY, by Sarah Sundin

Walter Novak and Allie Miller meet at a friend's wedding. On the surface, they have little in common. But the exigencies of World War II tend to break down normal barriers. Walt is a B-17 pilot about to be shipped out to England, while Allie is a timid, sheltered heiress-to-be.
Normally, Walt is tongue-tied around available women, but they meet on a train and he falsely assumes her to be married and a mother of small children, so he feels safe in talking to her. When he finds out later that she's single he's able to continue his unaccustomed gregariousness, to the point where he draws her out of her shell. The two of them begin a friendship, which forms the basis of this Christian romance.
Walt goes off to England, and Allie returns to her home in Riverside, where she's expected to marry a man who is her parent's choice for her.
The theme that develops through A Distant Melody is the seriousness of even a "harmless" white lie. Through mutual deceptions and silences when words would have been truthful, Allie and Walt's relationship bounces as much as a B-17 in a hard landing.
The wartime air battle scenes are masterfully done. In fact, for me they were the highlight of the novel. The crewmen of Walt’s bomber emerge as real people that the reader comes to care about. These portions of A Distant Melody contain many details realistic to the time period (1942–43) in which the story is set. Sundin has done a remarkable job of researching both the scenes in Europe as well as details of life in wartime California.
There have been so many novels set in WWII that I wasn't sure I'd want to read another one, but A Distant Melody offers a fresh look at an often-told conflict. It was a pleasure to read. I look forward to the next book in the series so I can find out what happens to the other Novak brothers, minor characters in this story. I recommend this book.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Newsletter Contest

My Spring Newsletter offered a drawing for $15 Amazon.com gift certificate. Readers of The Promise of Morning were asked to use this link on my website: http://www.annshorey.com/contact.html to write and tell me which character in the story was their favorite, and why.
The contest ended today, with no winner. I heard from dozens of readers with their compliments on the story. Some asked questions about the writing process, others simply said how much they enjoyed The Promise of Morning. But not one reader named a favorite character.
It's all good. I love hearing from my readers, especially those with compliments! In a later issue, I'll run another contest, so if you're not currently signed up for the e-mail version of the newsletter, please go to http://annshorey.com and sign up under the "Get the Newsletter" heading.
Maybe the next one will pose a question that's not so difficult!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

WINTER HAVEN, by Athol Dickson

Winter Haven has all the ingredients for a suspenseful read--an isolated setting, a woman alone, and strange happenings--apparently supernatural. The characters are as rock-ribbed as the island they inhabit. Only one person shows the protagonist, Vera Gamble, any kindness, but she's been warned away from him by all of the villagers. Is he who he says he is, or part of a conspiracy to prevent her from learning what happened to her long-missing brother?
I have to admit the first third of Winter Haven pushed my limits for scary. I don’t like to be so frightened by a plot that my sleep is disturbed, as some of Stephen King’s books have done. The factor that kept me reading was the knowledge that Athol Dickson writes for Bethany House, an inspirational publisher, so he wasn't going to go too far afield. Or was he?
The plot concerns Vera Gamble, who goes to an island off the coast of Maine to claim the body of her brother, Siggy, whom she hasn't seen for thirteen years. When she’s shown the body, she's stunned to find Siggy unchanged from the boy he was when he ran away from home all those years ago. Dickson weaves one mysterious happening after another to thwart Vera from discovering the truth about her brother’s death.
As Winter Haven speeds to a conclusion, Dickson neatly explains each of the phenomena in ways I'd never have guessed. I loved the ending, and recommend this story. Just don't start it late at night.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

So Brave, Young, and Handsome, by Leif Enger

Leif Enger's novel, Peace Like a River, is one of my top five favorite books of all time. So when I saw So Brave, Young, and Handsome in my Christian bookstore the other day, I snapped it up.
The timing was perfect. I'd just quit reading a much-touted general market bestseller about halfway through the book. The story was too dark for my taste, and I didn't want to imprint those images on my brain.
When I opened So Brave, Young, and Handsome I felt like someone was sitting across from me telling me a story. So I settled in to listen. The novel is the tale of an aging train robber, an even older former Pinkerton detective, and the humble writer who is swept up in their adventures. The time frame is shortly after the turn of the last century, when the wild west was fading into legend.
The humble writer, Monte Becket, is the story’s narrator. He becomes intrigued with a neighbor, Glendon, who lives down the river from Monte’s home. Eventually Glendon comes to share meals with Monte’s family, and beguiles Monte into traveling with him while he tries to right an old wrong.
Enger excels at description, using metaphors and similes I wouldn't be able to come up with in a million years. For example, page 64 begins with these sentences:
"We struck no town that night and laid up at dawn on a sandy shore under a cottonwood tree. The tree would’ve provided superior shade, but by noon the sky turned to funeral wool and November came hissing through the grass. There are people who 'predict' the weather, but on the Great Plains these are a fragile and disappointed little group."
So Brave, Young, and Handsome reminded me of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" in the way Enger mixed lightheartedness into a story with its fair share of old West grittiness. When you’re in the mood to have someone tell you a yarn about some memorable experiences, sit down and read what Monte Becket has to say. I highly recommend this novel.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


It's been a long time since I've read a book set during the Regency period. I'd forgotten how enjoyable such stories can be.
The Silent Governess falls squarely in the enjoyable category. It's a long book, over 400 pages, but reads quickly with all the absorbing plot turns. The story concerns Miss Olivia Keene, who flees her home believing she's committed an unforgivable act. Her flight ends in a stolen moment outside Brightwell Court, a sprawling manor house some distance from her home.
Quite by accident she overhears Lord Bradley and his father speak of a deep family secret. When she is discovered outside the manor, Lord Bradley feels his only choice is to bring her into service in the home, to better ensure that she won’t reveal his secret. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer, as the saying goes.
The book gets its title from a combination of circumstances which leave Olivia mute. Since no one in the community where she finds herself knows she can speak, people believe her to be truly unable to speak. Even though Lord Bradley is not fully convinced that she’s not pretending to be mute, her affliction plays into his plans to protect his secret.
Several of the characters in The Silent Governess are not who they appear to be, and figuring out relationships between one another kept me guessing throughout the story.
After reading The Silent Governess, I’m a new Julie Klassen fan. As soon as I can, I plan to read Lady of Milkweed Manor and The Apothecary’s Daughter.
For now, The Silent Governess gets top marks from me. I recommend it highly.

Monday, February 15, 2010

MEANDER SCAR, by Lisa J. Lickel

Lickel's third novel, Meander Scar, weaves a tale of surprises and heart-wrenching emotional dilemmas. The term, "Meander Scar" refers to scars on the landscape left after high water causes a river to temporarily change course. When the overflow evaporates, a scar is left in the place where the river once ran.
Meander Scar uses this as a metaphor for protagonist, Ann Ballard's, life. Ann is a forty-something woman who lives alone when Mark Roth, who lived next door as a boy, shows up on her doorstep. At first she believes he’s there to visit his old neighborhood and contact his boyhood friends. But there’s a deeper reason for Mark’s appearance. As the story progresses, Mark’s history makes it clear why he’s come seeking Ann.
Although Ann is attracted to his dark good looks, she reminds herself that Mark is eleven years younger than she is. As he overcomes her initial doubts about his motives, more serious complications come to light from Ann’s own background. Some of the most profound questions raised in this book arise from Ann’s reactions to discoveries about her past.
Lickel has written a convincing novel about love in all its forms. If you want to be intrigued by an unusual plot, Meander Scar is for you.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Tea Time for the Traditionally Built is McCall Smith's tenth novel in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. I have the whole series, and can think of no better books to read when I want something peaceful and reassuring.
In the case of Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, "traditionally built" refers to the protagonist in all of these novels, Precious Ramotswe of Botswana, Africa. Mma Ramotswe prefers to think of herself as traditionally built, rather than fat, as she is sometimes referred to by unkind persons.
Mma Ramotswe is a staunch defender of all that is traditional about Botswana, and often muses on the old ways she remembers from her childhood. Each of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels involves cases to be solved by Mma Ramotswe’s agency. In the case of Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, the cases include discovering who might be throwing the games of the local football team and advising a woman who is juggling two boyfriends.
While she works her inimitable way through these mysteries, Mma Ramotswe is struggling with worries of her own. Her tiny white van is on its last legs (wheels?) and she is trying to hide the fact from her husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, a mechanic, for fear he’ll send her much-loved vehicle to the scrap heap.
If you haven’t discovered this series yet, I recommend you start with Book One, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and prepare yourself for hours of delight.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Choice, by Suzanne Woods Fisher

I've read very little Amish fiction--no small feat, considering how many Amish novels are out there right now. The Choice is the riveting story of Carrie Weaver, an Amish girl torn between two worlds. When the novel opens, she’s planning to run away with her boyfriend to live in the "English" world. In a sharp turn of events, her plans are thwarted by tragedy.
Fisher opens the world of the Amish and their beliefs to the reader with her skillful and gentle prose. She’s uniquely qualified to so do, as her grandfather was raised in the Old Order German Baptist Church in Pennsylvania.
The situations that arise in Carrie’s life twist and turn to the point where the reader can’t see how she will find her way to forgiveness and reconciliation with God. The Choice had me reading "just one more chapter" to find out how the story would end.
The Choice is beautifully written--I loved Fisher’s similes. Here’s one I thought was exceptional: “Emma hovered over Vonnie like a bee over blooming lavender . . . “ Here Fisher not only captures the essence of Emma’s hovering, she does it in a way that reflects the simplicity of the Amish world.
I thoroughly recommend The Choice. I’ll be looking forward to Fisher’s next book in the Lancaster County Secrets series.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Family Baggage, by Monica McInerney

I haven't posted a review since late November. "Family Baggage" in my personal life has kept me busy! Even though I wasn't posting blogs, I didn't stop reading, so I have a backlog of reviews to catch up on. For starters, I want to share my enjoyment of Family Baggage, by Australian author, Monica McInerney.
Harriet Turner, the protagonist in Family Baggage, carries this novel in a thoroughly captivating manner. McInerney has created a woman to whom many of us can relate.
The story opens with Harriet recovering from a breakdown following the deaths of her parents. Turner Travel, the family business, was started by Harriet’s parents, and is now carried on by Harriet and her siblings. She’s been given an assignment to take a tour group of senior citizens from Australia (her home) to the Cornish countryside. Her adopted sister, Lara, is scheduled to meet the group in England and guide their eccentric charges on the path a television series crime-solver of the previous decade followed. (Think “Murder She Wrote”.)
However, Lara fails to show up at the airport as planned. Harriet finds herself alone with a busload of characters who have all but memorized every episode of the old television show. If this weren’t enough, she discovers that Lara has disappeared. Uncovering her sister’s whereabouts leads to confronting long-held family secrets and resolving old family baggage.
McInerney is an Australian author whose novels remind me of Maeve Binchey’s. I love Binchey’s stories and love McInerney’s in the same way—appealing characters, a touch of humor, and plots that keep me turning pages.
Family Baggage is a terrific story. It's fiction for the general market, but contains little objectionable material.