Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Musings

"It's the little things that make up the richest part of the tapestry of our lives" -- Unknown

I read that quote and thought how true it is. We worry, fret and pray about the big things - but it is the little things in life that we miss and give life its joy and color. I think about seeing the Crocus bloom right on top of the snow - the first Robin of spring... Spotting a Cardinal that reminds me of my aunt or the Iris I had to leave behind when we moved.

Iris are especially meaningful to me because they were my grandmother's favorite flower. It was her life and death that convinced me to become a Christian. So I plant them in remembrance of her. This picture was the first year and the first bloom of my Iris patch at our old house. I don't have one here yet and I miss it. I see the shoots coming up and I know there will be no Iris here for me this year. No reminder - and it makes me sad.

I can fix it easily enough - and next year will be different. I know how much that means to me and then I think that maybe there are simple things I could do that would bring joy to someone else. Maybe it's someone who has a blog and needs followers, or their blog doesn't get comments very often. Maybe they need a friend to sit down and talk to or a ride somewhere... It doesn't have to be a grand gesture - sometimes it's the little things that stand out the most and make a huge difference in someone's life.

Have a great week. :o)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Summa Elvetica

From Goodreads:
Do Elves Have Souls? In a medieval fantasy world in which the realm of man is dominated by a rich and powerful Church, the Most Sanctified Charity IV decides the time is ripe to make a conclusive inquiry into the matter. If, in his infallible wisdom, he determines that elves do have immortal souls, then the Church will be obliged to bring the Holy Word of the Immaculate to them. But if he decides they do not, there will be holy war. Powerful factions line up on both sides of the debate. War-hungry magnates cast greedy eyes at the ancient wealth of the elven kingdoms and pray for a declaration that elves are little more than animals. And there are men who are willing to do more than merely pray. The delegation sent to the High King of the Elves is led by two great theologians, brilliant philosophers who champion opposite sides of the great debate. And in the Sanctiff’s own stead, he sends the young nobleman, Marcus Valerius. Marcus Valerius is a rising scholar in the Church, talented, fearless, and devout. But he is inexperienced in the ways of the world. Nothing in his life has prepared him for the beauty of the elves—or the monumental betrayal into which he rides.

My Take:

When I picked up this book I hoped for adventure, thought provoking debate... and lots of elves. Maybe you'll laugh at that last part but I really thought if your aim is to decide about the state of their souls - they should play a fairly large role in the story. The real central conflict (and thus the story) is centered around the men here. Elves play a secondary role  - almost as more of an excuse to examine the people than anything else.

This book was somewhat confusing to me. It's more like four things squished between one cover than a single novel. It sets up as this dramatic tale about what will happen when they meet the elves - but about 70% of the book is the journey there and back again plus the Summa Elvetica - which is short and really anti-climatic because the author already summarizes the important conclusions for us and what decision has been made. Then he shares his author's note and then goes back and shares two short stories that give background information for the main story. The two stories also don't connect to each other. It's almost as if the author had these great ideas but couldn't figure out how to make it into one smooth, connected novel so he just pieced it together into -- this. 

Despite this drawbacks I loved the characters we meet early on in the book. They are well-written and have engaging personalities. I like action more than long descriptions but I still enjoyed the camaraderie shared between the characters and "listening in" on and comparing the soldiers war stories was interesting. 

In the end, I wasn't the biggest fan of the format but there were lots on interesting surprises and great characters that made it a worthwhile read.  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Monday Musings

Another new week rolls in and I'm so happy the temperatures have warmed up and the flowers have started to bloom! I hope spring has visited wherever you live. :o) Today I want to talk about that old saying "never judge a book by its cover."

I'm sure you've heard it before. I know I have. I've even said it - multiple times - to my sons. Still I've been guilty of it myself. Haven't you? Either you don't even glance at the book with the plain cover (that may or may not have the masterpiece of the century inside) and we oooh and ah at the one with the gorgeous cover that may or may not be worthless even as a paperweight. Sometimes we even misjudge the content of the book because of the cover. This is unfortunate (and as an aspiring writer I can tell you that authors cringe at that thought because most of them have nearly nothing to do with their cover art).

I've told you before that I'm not the biggest fan of war books so when I picked up a bag of "classics" that included a dog-eared copy of North and South and saw this forlorn scene (knowing nothing about the book), I didn't even read the back cover, I just put it off to the side and never read it. I just knew I didn't want to read a sad story about the Civil war (you can laugh at me, it's okay).

You also know I'm a HUGE Jane Austen fan and one of my groups was doing a side read and they were comparing North and South to Pride and Prejudice. What? I was confused and intrigued. Not enough to read the book, yet - but it just so happened that the movie came on PBS and I was able to watch it. They were right! I was wrong... I suddenly went on a search for that book (it's still packed). I bought the DVD for that movie though. It's a totally different story than I thought. I shouldn't have judged it by the cover.

We do that with people too. Someone may have a weight problem and we think they just sit around and eat all day. Maybe we judge because they have money or they live in a nice neighborhood so we think they don't have any problems. Maybe they attend a different church so we think they don't love God as much as we do. People are different and have all kinds of situations that we may not understand. We have to look beneath the cover and get to know them and try to see them the way that God would want us to. If we were all the same the world would be a pretty boring place and it wouldn't work the way it does. We need the strength that comes from the differences.

From the time I was in elementary school until now I've had a problem being almost painfully shy - especially in crowds of new people. Many times it was misunderstood as being stuck up because I was always off by myself and very quiet. I wish people hadn't judged me by my cover - and they'd taken the time to get to know the real me. It wasn't until much later that I found out what the problem was. Someone took a chance and got to know me. Since then I've tried to not only be more aware of my own problem but that other people might have "false covers" too. I try to pass the grace more often than condemnation.

Have a great week ~ and if you get a chance to read or watch North and South you should definitely do so, it's a great story! :o)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Always the Baker, Never the Bride

From Goodreads:

Thirty-six-year-old Emma Rae Travis has been baking specialty cakes and melt-in-your-mouth pastries at The Backstreet Bakery in historic Roswell, just outside of Atlanta, for the last six years. But here s the rub about her job as a baker ... Emma is diabetic. When she tastes her creations, it can only be in the most minute portions. Emma is considered an artisan for the stunning crème brulee wedding cake that won her the Passionate Palette Award last year, but she s never even had one full slice of it.
When Jackson Drake hears about this local baker who has won a prestigious award for her wedding cake artistry, he tells his assistant to be sure and include her in the pastry tastings scheduled at his new wedding destination hotel the following week. And for Jackson, that particular day has started out badly with two workmen trapped in a broken elevator and a delivery of several dozen 300-thread-count bed linens in the wrong size abandoned in the lobby. But when the arrogant baker he met a week prior in Roswell stumbles into the dining room with a platter of pastries and a bucketful of orders, he knows for certain: It s going to be a really rotten day.
Can these two ill-suited players master the high-wire act and make a go of their new business venture? Or will they take each other crashing downward, without a net? And will the surprise wedding at The Tanglewood be theirs?

My Take: 
This one had it all: romance, laughs, family drama - and food. ;o)  Seriously, this book had me glued to my Kindle. Jackson Drake was the perfect hero in that he was a little bit flawed - still hanging on to the memories from the wife he'd lost years ago - and certainly not welcoming to any ideas about religion of any kind that would say that it was okay that she was gone and that God had a plan for his life without her. He's compassionate and understanding with Emma, handsome, more than a little over his head... and just all around wonderful. 

Emma is talented, loaded with family issues, and has more than a little space between her and God as well. I loved seeing how much stronger she became over the course of the book. She didn't start off insecure but she ended in a position of strength and confidence that I think a person can have from knowing who God made them to be.  

Together these two had a great romance. It had some wonderful kisses, some heated exchanges, those moments when you wonder will he/she? And I learned a whole new term/idea about what makes men do the things they do sometimes in dating/relationships. I'll leave you to discover that one for yourself when you read the book. 

This is one of my favorite reads of the year. It is very well written and I loved all the inserted sections that had everything from mouthwatering recipes to tips on wedding favors. Add in the extended families and all their eccentricities... I wouldn't hesitate to suggest this book to any of my friends. :o)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Convenient Groom

From Goodreads:

She wrote the book--literally--on finding the right mate. But does she really understand what love's about? Five hours before her Nantucket beach wedding--and on the eve of her big book launch--celebrity marriage counselor Kate Lawrence has everything in place. Everything, that is, but the groom. She might not have a career, either, when her nationwide audience finds out their marriage guru has been left at the altar. Enter Lucas Wright, who offers to stand in for the missing husband-to-be and marry her. Kate's desperate enough to agree--although she's sure this Mr. Wright is completely wrong for her. Can they pull it off? And why would Lucas marry her in the first place? With her life spinning out of control, Kate wonders what good her carefully laid plans are if they only lead to chaos. Could it be that "Dr. Kate" doesn't know the first thing about love? When she seeks God's will instead of her won, Kate finally discovers true and lasting love.

My Take:

One of my very favorite verses  is:

"The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over over you with singing." 
Zephaniah 3:17

The author was inspired by it when she was writing this book. I would love to say that great minds think alike, but Denise Hunter is in a class all her own. This is not your ordinary Christian romance novel. It's not your ordinary romance novel either. She doesn't preach or even overtly talk about God most of the time. Still, the message is there if you look for it.

This is one of the most touching love stories I've read in a long time. It's a re-release with a beautiful new cover. It's a chance for those of you who haven't read it to get in on something special - and I'm going to be offering you an extra chance as well. :o) Before we get there, let's talk about the story a little more.

Marriages of convenience aren't commonplace today. A lot of couples choose not to marry so a contemporary romance with that theme is a little different right from the beginning. Then you start to notice the people involved and the roles they play. Kate is the relationship expert - but she's stood up on her wedding day because her groom claims to be in love with someone else. Lucas offers to help because he doesn't want Kate hurt and he hopes that he might be able to win her over in time. 

As you watch their relationship, you see Kate accept help in the crisis and yet want to stubbornly cling to her independence - as if giving in to his love (let along returning it) would somehow make her weak. He persists - refusing to give up on her. Sometimes while reading I wanted to reach in and shake her. I couldn't believe she was missing how wonderful he was and all the good he was trying to do for her. 
Then you take two giant steps back. Isn't that how we all are with God? We only call out or accept His help in crisis moments and then we want Him to back off and let us take charge again. In the meantime, he just keeps loving us and trying to help. Without the notes and the preface, this love story could be any romance. It certainly wouldn't offend anyone who doesn't believe in God. If you want to, you can find another layer though.

Now for the good stuff. :o) Thomas Nelson provided me with this copy for review and since I already had my own, I am passing along my good fortune to one of you. This is how you earn entries: 
  1. Be/become a follower
  2. Announce the giveaway on your blog (share the link)
  3. Friend me on goodreads (or share that you are my friend)
  4. Announce the giveaway on goodreads (send/show me announcement)
Don't forget to leave your email address. The drawing will be held on 30 March 2011 - midnight CST. It is only for residents of the United States and is void where prohibited. Thanks and good luck!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Monday Musings

What happened in Japan last week reinforced many of the lessons driven home by 9-11. Things I think we had started taking for granted a little bit. What matters most? What is vitally important to me?

It also reinforced how very interconnected we all are. What happened (and is happening) in Japan isn't isolated to just their country. Not only did huge waves literally hit the shores of the United States and other countries, but because of their role in the world economy, the shock waves from this event will be felt for quite some time.

I look around at the many wars and natural disasters in the world and it can be very scary. It is also wonderful to see how people stand back up, brush themselves off, gather their loved ones around them and work at rebuilding. Sometimes our greatest strength is only seen when we face adversity.

My nephew and his wife live in Japan. He used to be in the Army. They are alive and well. Other families weren't as lucky as mine. As they rebuild, I'm thankful for my family, friends, faith - and so many other blessings. May I never take them for granted. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Springtime of the Spirit

Title: Springtime of the Spirit
Author: Maureen Lang

From Goodreads:

By the fall of 1918, the Great War has ended and the world is at peace, but there is little to celebrate in Germany. After four years of fighting for his homeland, Christophe Brecht returns to find there is little left of what he once called home. So when family friends ask him to travel to Munich to bring back their runaway daughter, Christophe agrees.
When he finally locates Annaliese Duray, he discovers she is far different from the girl he once knew. Headstrong, idealistic, and beautiful, she is on the front lines of the city’s political scene, fighting to give women and working-class citizens a voice in Germany’s new government.
As the political upheaval ignites in Munich, so does the attraction between Annaliese and Christophe. With an army from Berlin threatening to squash everything Annaliese has worked for, both she and Christophe are forced to choose between love and loyalty.

My Take:

This is one of those books that make me think of irony. I've avoided "war" books because I tend to read mostly for escape and entertainment and I don't enjoy stories about wars. I do love historical fiction and this was offered to me for my honest review so I thought I might as well take a chance on it. The first thing I learned was that this isn't really a book about war ~ it's a book about people.

The author has written some compelling characters that are exactly the kind I prefer. These aren't marshmallow fluff characters that leave you feeling as if you may need to visit the dentist because they are just a tad too sweet - too perfect to actually walk planet Earth. Annaliese is basically in rebellion against her parents, her government and her faith. Christophe is so angry at what has happened that one of the first things we see him do is try and destroy a poster of the Kaiser - his mind full of thoughts about how the army was lied to and betrayed by the people who led them into the war.

Another reason I don't much like "war" books is because I would like to keep all the horrible scenes and issues in the past - thinking it has no relevance on life today. I cringed more than once as I read the well-meaning Annaliese describe to Christophe why socialism was the right thing for Germany. Too often her speeches, along with those of her mentor, Jurgen, could have been ripped from today's headlines. 

What surprised me the most was how much I liked this book. It put a human face on a difficult period in Germany's history. Christophe's love and dedication to Annaliese wasn't conditional. He didn't stop caring for her because her views were different, or when she did things he didn't approve of. In many ways I think his love was a great example of how God loves us - patiently, completely and for who we are.

This book featured wonderful characters that exhibited great strength as well as weaknesses. I think it was one of the best books I've read so far this year and I thank Tyndale House for providing it to me in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Promises She Keeps

First I want to apologize for not posting for the last few days. I've been sick. I'm still not feeling very well, but hopefully I'm on on the mend. I think it's some kind of stomach bug. I guess it's just that time of year. Thanks for your patience. :o)

Title: The Promises She Keeps
Author: Erin Healy

Goodreads Blurb: It's her destiny to die young. The man who loves her can't live with that.
Promise, a talented young vocalist with a terminal illness, is counting on fame to keep her memory alive after she dies. Porta is an aging witch and art collector in search of the goddess who will grant her immortality.
When Promise inexplicably survives a series of freak accidents, Porta believes that Promise is the one she seeks. But Chase, an autistic artist who falls in love with Promise and opposes Porta, comes between the women with his mysterious visions and drawings, and plunges everyone into a flesh-and-blood confrontation over the true meaning of eternal life.

My take:

This was one of those books that was slow to make sense. It was hard to get into and then I wasn't quite sure I knew exactly where it was going - or agreed with it. There were some shining moments and well drawn characters... but I always feel the true test of a book is if I get so caught up in it that I believe in the characters and the story as if they were real people and events. I never got there with this one.

The first problem was the premise that Promise - who is sick with Cystic Fibrosis - suddenly gets better and survives all these near fatal accidents, but only until she is around Porta, a witch. The accidents make her feel better than ever before and they all occur around Porta's son (a drug addict that she is drawn to) and neither of them have any faith in God at all. In fact, I didn't notice any real redemptive message in the book at all. Sacrificial love, innocence, sharing... but no real redemption.

Only Chase (the autistic man) shows any signs of faith and his sister questions his understanding of it. Many times it appears he gets messages about what's going to happen from his father (who is dead). This may be the author's way of having God speak to Chase, but that isn't discussed or the way he seems to view it. More of a sci-fi/magical feel comes across as his drawing utensils rattle by themselves in their cans and "call to him" to tell him what to draw. Nevertheless, he does understand biblical principles and tries and share them with others through his drawings of trees.

The other problem is Chase's claim to love Promise, romantically. He first claims this when he hasn't even met her. He says that he loves everyone he gives his pictures to and I wish they would have left his feelings for Promise in this same category because it just doesn't make sense that he would have this romantic love for her (specially since it isn't returned - he makes her uncomfortable) with no real personal contact with her. It felt more like a stalker relationship after that instead of something good and with any promise for a future.

The ending felt rushed and unsatisfying. I felt like the story had potential, but took some wrong turns. It still is a very haunting and unique novel. I haven't read anything quite like it. I want to thank the people at Thomas Nelson for providing my copy in exchange for my honest review.