Dick Eastman’s Talking with God

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Talking with God: A Practical Plan for Personal Prayer
By Dick Eastman / Chosen Books
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During this 12 month stretch of “Safer at Home” and social distancing, I have developed new routines. Once a week, I bake sourdough bread and typically bag up homemade granola just as frequently. With the granola, I’ve had a lot of fun trying new ingredients like coconut oil, pumpkin seeds, and switching between maple syrup or honey for the sweetener. One thing that hasn’t changed is starting my day with a time of morning devotions and Bible reading. Throughout the year, I have enjoyed the book New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional by Paul David Tripp. I’m nearly through the year. So it was good timing when I received Dick Eastman’s Talking with God to read and review. In the last few months during this unprecedented time, I have also been working on my prayer life. I was concerned that I was spending only short periods of time sending up self-centered laundry lists of prayer requests to our Lord. The book Talking with God will equip you with strategies for avoiding these pitfalls and improve your prayer life. The quote on page 9 is what first captured my attention. Eastman writes, “Where there is an absence of prayer, there will be an absence of power. Where there is frequency of prayer, there will be a continuing display of God’s power.”

It’s a lovely book all around. Small in dimensions, so it’s easy to hold. The attractive page layout and the sweet ribbon bookmark boost the positive reading experience. At just 155 pages, it’s reader friendly. I have offered to share it with my church family, but in truth I’m having a hard time removing it from my personal library. The chapters on listening, waiting, and intercessory prayer are moving. I’m so glad I had the chance to review this book. I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Tom Threadgill’s Network of Deceit

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Network of Deceit
By Tom Threadgill / Revell

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A great suspense novel with a contemporary plot. Threadgill is a new author to me. The characters were original, well drawn out, and all woven together into a very satisfying reading experience. At mid-point, I said to my husband, “You would like this book. You can have it when I’m finished.” He didn’t wait. The next day he picked it up and jumped right in. From that point forward we managed two bookmarks until its conclusion; “His” and “Mine”. He finished before me but offered no spoilers. At the end he asked, “So this author has another book?” We both want to read Threadgill’s first book titled Collision of Lies. Isn’t that the best compliment an novelist can earn? Two satisfied readers looking for the author’s other published works.

The female protagonist, Amara Alvarez, is smart and competent. The story opens on her first days at her new assignment in the San Antonio’s Homicide Division. Her desk is a card table. It’s not like they rolled out the red carpet to welcome the newbie. Mostly she wins negative attention from one veteran detective who mocks her earlier work, harangues her with belittling language, and talks about the office pool he initiated to see just how long she will last. From this point forward, she’s the underdog you’ll root for hoping the snarky veteran will have to eat crow. One detective, Starsky Peckham befriends her and eventually assists on a case. Their story line is superb with funny banter studded with nuggets of wisdom.

The crime is quite a mystery that is a tough puzzle to solve. You’ll be glad to follow the cast through to the end. In exchange for my honest review, I received a print copy from the publisher, Revell.

The Women’s March By Jennifer Chiaverini

A Novel of the 1913 Woman’s Procession

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On Sale July 27, 2021. Pre-order now at your favorite Independent Bookstore. A great new release from Jennifer Chiaverini

A must read! Such a wise choice to focus mostly on The Women’s March with important investigations into the point of view of Black Women, Western Women Voters, Southern Women, and a look at events in England. A watershed time in US History and the focus on the events leading up to and after The Women’s March kept the focus tight. The research is excellent. The intro lays the ground work and moves at a slower pace. You will finish the book with a great appreciation for the historical achievements of these pioneering women. Excellent! I read an advance readers’ copy from NetGalley.

All That We Carried

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All That We Carried
By Erin Bartels / Revell

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 I love it when a novel’s setting is a main character. Erin Bartels’ newest release titled All That We Carried is based in the Porcupines Mountains Wilderness State Park located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She does a beautiful job capturing the majesty of the waterfalls, the vastness of Lake Superior, and the park’s rugged wilderness. I could even sense the trail dirt and grime that hung on our sibling hikers during their journey. Melanie and Olivia agree to the late fall hike even though they have remained estranged for at least ten years. Their separation began when they lost their parents in a fatal car accident. The oldest sister, Olivia dealt with the tragedy by disappearing from her hometown and immersing herself in college, then law school, and then her career as a prosecutor. Melanie, left with the duty of being executor of her parent’s estate, struggled through it all and battled depression. She felt quite alone through the whole process. The story begins on the day of their hike. One Melanie suggested as a way to reunite. Melanie hoped hearts would be shared over campfires, but the warm fuzzy feelings were in short supply for most of the expedition. Practical Olivia was sure she had thought of everything to ensure hiking success. Their plans and reality rarely intersected. They were derailed by missed sign markers, bad weather, physical hurts, lost maps, and forest fires.

Looming throughout the whole story was, “What to do about Justin?” Olivia’s close teenage friend, until Justin drove recklessly and caused their parents’ tragic death. Olivia cut ties with Justin and harbored bitterness toward him. A feeling that festered unabated for a decade. Melanie ended up forming a relationship with Justin. The pair were drawn together by their grief. As they expressed their sorrows and hurts, a relationship blossomed. Olivia grew even more angry with Melanie when she discovered Melanie had forgiven Justin.

Circling around the question of to forgive or not, is a bigger question connected to their perspective on life. Should everyone be like Olivia and plan everything out to the last detail in an effort to control the outcomes and avoid risk? Is Melanie’s view more acceptable? She has adopted bits and pieces of all religions hoping her efforts to do all the right things will bring her safety and enduring happiness. The author lays out a well reasoned case that nudges both girls to a Christian faith, pointing to the One who is in control despite what often seems to us as chaotic.

Flashback moments are sprinkled throughout this novel. Different page designs alert you to the plot changes. At first, I found them abrupt, questioning if they were necessary plot diversions. They did help the reader learn more about the siblings during their early years and Justin’s back story. So I can see how each earned its place in the book.

All That We Carried was very enjoyable. I would recommend it with enthusiasm. It’s the second Erin Bartels book I’ve read and I would be happy to pass it on to one of my reading buddies. I received a complimentary book from the publisher, Revell, in exchange for my honest review.

Power Outage = Power Reading

We were all impressed this week when the power stayed constant despite a storm that delivered record snowfall amounts in a short space of time. The snow was deep, but dry. Unlike the storm a few weeks back that was thick and wet. During this previous weather event, snow snapped branches and power lines failed when trees toppled. While it’s an inconvenience, power outages have their own rewards. Just curl up with a few blankets, a battery powered booklight, and revel in reading time. This 18 hour power outage helped me successfully meet my 2020 reading challenge. Thirty books in 52 weeks. I probably read a few more, but those are the ones I recorded. This last power outage revealed one problem with our trusty generator. It’s not big enough to power everything simultaneously. So we rotate through a cycle of powering the furnace and water pump, then the refrigerator and some kitchen outlets. This is how I know I can brew a morning cup of coffee. But this year, no coffee. There wasn’t enough voltage for some reason to bring the coffee maker to life. I was ready to hike out to the neighbors because days just don’t start without “a cup of Joe”. As I grew more irritable and impatient, I finally realized hot chocolate made with boiling water on my gas stove would suffice. Since that day, I decided on an inexpensive solution. My husband doesn’t know it yet, but during our Christmas gift exchange, he’s giving me a stove top percolator. I am truly comforted to know, I can enjoy a cup of coffee with or without power. Here’s to many happy hours of reading in 2021!

photo credit: Amazon and the Colletti Bozeman Percolator Coffee Pot

The Windsor Knot by S J Bennett

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While listening to a recent podcast, a publishing rep gushed enthusiastically over this book. In the blink of an eye, I clicked over to NetGalley and submitted my ARC request. I was pleased to receive The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett to review. Now that I’ve finished it, I understand his enthusiasm. Queen Elizabeth II and her assistant private secretary Rozie Oshodi are detectives. The Queen skillfully directs Rozie to track down clues while her majesty simultaneously carries out her royal duties. Each time Rozie reports her findings, new clues are unveiled and her task list grows. All of this is done in the background. It turns out, the Queen has been solving crimes since her coronation decades ago. At times she asks Rozie to enlist the help of Billy MacLachlan, a trusted former law enforcement officer. As she moves closer to the truth the Queen skillfully gets just enough info to the MI5 investigators to get them to see her point of view. The MI5 detectives have some of her staff high on their suspect list. They also consider a wild theory involving an unknown sleeper agent planted by Russia as valid. The Queen’s desire to prove them wrong launches her into this crime solving inquiry.

You may think the Queen is hoping to capture an art thief or a high level robber making off with the palace jewels. But it’s a murderer that must be caught. A young Russian pianist died after an evening of royal feasting and dancing at Windsor Castle. The guest list for the evening reads like a gathering of Who’s Who from Britain and Russia. Among them are a few individuals who look guilty. Due to the sordid circumstances of the young Russian’s death, a cloak of secrecy covers the investigation. Queen Elizabeth and her staff hope the solution will arrive before news of the event leaks to the tabloids.

It’s a contemporary novel with former US president Barack Obama and his wife visiting the castle. References are made to Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkle. The agendas of World Powers are called into question and the plot involves a good dose of international intrigue. You’ll have fun reading the uniquely British terms like bespoke and brio and deciphering the acronyms HRM and MBE. (Her Royal Majesty and Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s husband adds a touch of humor to the story. Their dialogue and his remarks are upbeat and quirky.

This book is due out on March 9, 2021. It’s available now as a pre-order. As stated at the opening, I read an advanced reader’s copy of this book supplied by NetGalley. I was under no obligation to publish a positive review. #TheWindsorKnot, #NetGalley

“Things We Didn’t Say” by Amy Lynn Green

Things We Didn’t Say
By Amy Lynn Green / Bethany House
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I just finished “Things We Didn’t Say” by Amy Lynn Green. Just after its debut day, I was so excited to pick up my copy from the local Indie Bookstore. Later when I flipped open the cover, I  was caught by surprise. “Hold on a second,” I said. “An entire book written in letters? How did I miss this? Will I like it? I don’t know.” I couldn’t recall another similar literary offering that I had read. But upon reflection, I thought of two; The Screwtape Letters and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I enjoyed both of these. With this recollection, I was convinced. An epistolary novel is a  powerful form of expression. 

I got over my initial speed bump and plunged in. With a few page turns, I was all in. There’s great movement in the plot. The multiple points of view made the story rich. At the end, I thought the characters were so vibrant. Each one essential to the story. I had my doubts with Olive’s missives but even her correspondence proved to be a key story element. 

At the conclusion, I thought about the story of the prodigal son in the Bible. Not the returning prodigal son himself, but his brother. The one that would never go in and join the celebration due to his anger and unforgiving nature. I thought the letters did a good job of showing that often when presented with something that threatens our sense of justice we react just like the older brother. We lash out and harbor anger toward the person or situation that has rocked our world. Bitterness defines us. When the German POW’s came to the camp in the villagers’ northern Minnesota community, few were thinking about practicing hospitality, or letting their light shine, or showing God’s love. It was heartwarming to travel along with the characters on their path to greater understanding.

Fun surprises along the way lightened the mood and solved some mysteries. I’ll admit, I’m a little curious about the title. Why is it called “Things We Didn’t’ Say.” To me, the story is complete. It’s a homerun. The letters tell it all. As I think about it, I guess the title stems from the idea that the characters later expressed in letters what they neglected to say in the moment. Words left unspoken due to fear and bad timing. This certainly happened first with Johanna Berglund and Erik Sorenson, and later with Johanna and Peter.

Amy Lynn Green has crafted a thoroughly satisfying story. The book is part of my personal library, but it’s not likely to sit on the shelf for long. I’m looking forward to sharing it with my book buddies.

“Test, before You Trust!”

When I worked as a school library media specialist, I repeated this phrase often. Facts should always be verified. When you find a fact repeated the same way at another trustworthy source then it’s a “Go!”- use that fact with confidence.

However, errors often occur and they are frustrating and confusing. Recently I was looking at a historical photo. An anonymous writer had written a caption with some identifying information. The trouble is it didn’t line up with photos I had turned up in the state archives and local historical society. Finally after consulting with another respected researcher we solved the puzzle. He remembered a fact from a previously recorded oral history and together we judged the photo caption to be false. When I wrote my caption correction, I dated it and wrote my name. The lesson I learned is fact check all claims.

You can certainly get lost doing research. I was listening to a podcast last week, and the highly respected author Melanie Dobson said, “I write to support my research habit.” I can identify with this statement. Whether it’s checking facts or conducting an investigation to answer a question, I often find myself doing a deep dive into research. As deadlines near, more than once I’ve told my editorial board, “I’m just going to call it and start writing.” As the word count goes up, it easier to see what is needed and what can be discarded. With a project I’m working on, I still have two more outstanding unverified claims. One involves Henry David Thoreau, and the second is centered on the 1824 visit of the Marquis de Lafayette. Right now, the answers are just outside my grasp, but I’m hoping to prove them both of the claims true.

Winners announced November 12, 2020

2020 Christy Award Finalists

In each category, you’ll find great books to enjoy. Authors and publishers have given us many top quality novels. Page turners you can’t put down. You’ll experience a whole range of emotions with many. You’ll remember stand out quotes long after the back cover flips closed.

As I like to say …. “Bookmarks are for Quitters!”

Finalists in the First Novel Category. Use the link above for a list of all finalists.

Summer News

Since mid summer, my mind’s eye could see only deadlines. Two big projects came due at the end of September. For one I had to use primary sources extensively. With the state archives closed, its been like working with one hand tied behind your back. Microfilms at the historical societies can only be used in one hour appointments. At the state library the materials you look at one week are then quarantined for a week so they are not available until a week later. Patience was required. I managed to meet my deadlines. I am thankful.

Since I often work with many primary sources, I became aware of this 19th amendment display offered by the National Archives. I signed up to receive the display and was able to secure one. I made arrangements to have it on display starting just before August 18th. This date is significant because one hundred years ago on August 18, 1920, Tennessee passed it and became the required 36th state to pass the amendment. The contents of the display were superb. It was easy to set up. It was a bright spot in a very busy summer.