Book Talk Tuesday on a Wednesday

Bittersweet Surrender by Diann Hunt.Bittersweet Surrender by Diann Hunt

Carly Westlake owns a chocolate spa. She’s recovered from losing a breast to cancer but she’s not quite recovered from losing her husband to a younger, whole-er woman. She’s recently lost her best friend and co-worker in the spa in an accident. Her father also died and her elderly stepmother is moving in. Her life is stressful. She’s also been emailing a new man … sort of. Her brother’s best friend, Jake, whom she had a crush on when they were younger. Jake is moving back to town with his teenage daughter. Carly’s brother’s marriage is shaky due to her brother’s C.J.’s drinking and gambling. Did I mention Carly’s life is stressful? Her best friend who died, Ivy’s husband, Scott, is helping Carly figure out her finances and why a spa full of customers isn’t making money.

If that sounds like a lot, just try being Carly.

It all sounds like the perfect setup for a fun, lovely, sweet book.

I can only give it about 2 stars. If that.

I didn’t love it. Which even I find hard to believe since it’s got all the elements I love in my fiction. Chocolate. Romance. Fun. Purses. Chocolate. A spunky heroine. Chocolate.

But the elements didn’t mesh for me. Carly came off more irritated and petty instead of spunky at the beginning when her stepmother moved in and Scott volunteered to help her lose some weight by working out with her. She was resentful and childish.

The book wasn’t edited well. At one point, Carly uses a deep breathing technique that she learned in her Christian yoga class. Later, she’s at a class with her sister-in-law, but all of a sudden it’s Carly’s first time at the class. The next day she’s sore, again from that first time.  If it was her first time, where did she learn all the deep breathing techniques?

Carly talks about a spa called West Baden in Indiana (the book takes place in Vermont). In the next chapter, she drives 30 minutes to the next town over to check out the West Baden Spa. Those details make it hard for me to get into the fictive story world. I kept getting pulled out to flip back and make sure that I understood the previous comment and then reading the current page again. 

The “hero” that Carly is crushing on, anyone can see that he’s a self-centered jerk, but Carly is sure he’s the thinking about a future with her.

The other reviews I’ve read of this book were quite glowing, so maybe it was just me.

I was furnished a free e-copy of this book from Thomas Nelson, in return for an honest review.

Woe! It’s Wednesday: The Lost Art of Connecting


For several years now, I've been writing "charming notes," (thanks to Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life) to authors, editors, and/or agents whose work touches me. 

Some days I spend more time looking for a snail mail address that might reach them than I do writing the note. Today I gave up who I was going to write to simply because she was impossible to contact except electronically.

I did a search for a mega-best selling author instead and BAM! there it was: a PO Box! Yippee!! I could write my note instead of wandering aimlessly in cyberspace.

I often think that one of these days I’m going to run out of writers or editors or agents but so far it hasn’t happened, even though I’ve been doing this for years. Not every day, as Ms. See recommends. In fact, I pretty much skipped 2011 but I’ve been back at it the last month or so.

I’ve received some lovely responses, a book or two, and the quiet satisfaction of having sent something nice out into the ether.

Alexander McCall Smith made my day with his snail mail letter sent to me in response. Same with Sophie Kinsella, Claire Cook, Dean Koontz, and Kristan Higgins. Margaret Maron. Beverly Cleary. I could keep going …

The one person I haven’t yet written to is … yep, Carolyn See.

I wanted to have some months of notes behind me before I added her to my list of notes mailed. And she says you must write on nice stationery with your name engraved or printed on it. I’ve had some made, but now I’m out and I’m just writing on any (nice quality) card I can find.  Then I put it off again because it will feel like an ending instead of a beginning.

But that’s silly. Right? Right.

She’ll be tomorrow’s note. If I can scrape up one more good quality card or sheet of paper.


Book Talk Tuesday: Until There Was You

Loved it!

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I bought this on my Kindle. I’ve loved most everything by Kristan Higgins, except for My One and Only, which made me a bit hesitant to try her latest.

I’m so glad I did. She completely redeemed herself.

Posey Osterhagen is small and spunky with a big family and a bigger dog. She had a high school crush on the local bad boy, Liam Murphy.

Liam left town to follow his girl friend to college. He’s back now, widowed and with a teenage daughter.

Posey is still drawn to Liam, but he barely notices her. Much like when they were in high school.

Posey’s parents seem determined to fix up Liam with Posey’s cousin Gretchen, a celebrity chef called The Barefoot Fraulein.

Until There Was You has all the elements of a perfect Kristan Higgins romance: a spunky heroine, an adorable dog, eccentric parents, and an endearing story.

I’m ready to go back and pick up the one or two novels of hers that I haven’t yet read.


Fiction Friday


The Bandbox Hat is taking a hiatus until January 6th. Please check back then for Sarah Jane’s further adventures to find her sister and bring healing to her family.

Thanks for reading! I know there are a few of you out there and you are precious to me.


Woe! It’s Wednesday: Counting My Blessings

I read a blog post recently about the power of words to influence your attitude. It’s true. I know it. You know it.

I had a perfect illustration of this happen to me.

It will soon be 2012.

This morning, I was doing a kind of inventory of my life. Thinking about where I was a year ago, where I am now, where I planned to be, and so on.



I had some hard issues to deal with this last year. Losses of both loved ones and relationships. But I acknowledged that even the losses were blessings because of the lessons learned. I’m a better person for knowing the two step-uncles we lost this year. I’m a stronger and more assertive person because of lost relationships. I’ve learned to speak up when I’m treated unthinkingly. I learned that I do the right thing sometimes simply because it’s the right thing. I don’t worry about how my motives will be interpreted.

But just as quickly, my thoughts drifted to the things I didn’t get, both literally and metaphorically.

And then all kinds of emotions roiled. Anger. Frustration. Pity.

In an instant.

Where did all my gratitude for the good and hard-won lessons go?

Evaporated when my self-centeredness sneaked in.

I gave myself a shake, took myself out for a gingerbread latte (tall, non-fat, no whip – just in case you’re wondering), and told myself to snap out of it.

I’m blessed with people in my life who love me, who “get” me, and who allow me to be who I am.

Who cares what I don’t have?

Not me.

Thanks for reading my blog this year. It’s been a good discipline for me to post 2-3 times a week. I’m looking forward to more great lessons in 2012. I hope you’ll join me on the journey.


Book Talk Tuesday: Softly & Tenderly


Just read Softly & Tenderly by country singer Sara Evans and author Rachel Hauck.

It’s the second book in a series. I haven’t read the first book, The Sweet By and By.

I enjoyed Softly & Tenderly.

On the outside, Jade’s life is going well. She has a successful business and a loving husband. On the inside, she yearns for a baby.  Her mother is dying. Her in-laws are dragging her into their messy marriage. Her husband Max has several secrets that threaten to undo his and Jade’s marriage as well.

When Jade’s mother insists on returning home for her final weeks, Jade reluctantly agrees since, in spite of the reason for the trip, it will give her a much needed respite from Max and his unraveling life. Her mother-in-law comes along.

The book is well-written and has a strong sense of place and character. I wasn’t sure how it would be, picking up Jade and Max’s story in the middle, but it wasn’t a big problem. The backstory was enough to bring the reader up to speed, but it didn’t bog down the story. The writers often use color and color descriptions to set up the emotions the characters are dealing with. This works … mostly. There were a few places that I felt it verged on overdone and too flowery, but that’s a small consideration in an overall very good book.

I felt the conclusion arrived a bit abruptly. Jade had been insistent about what she was not going to do. With little fanfare, self-examination, or acknowledging the lessons learned though, she agreed to the task after all. A savvy reader saw that ending coming but I would have liked her to struggle with it a bit more, even (or especially) in the doing. But perhaps that is the core of book 3.

Love Lifted Me is due out next month.

Overall, I enjoyed it but I didn’t fall in love with it.

I recommend Softly & Tenderly, however, starting with book 1 would be best.

I received an e-copy of this book from Thomas Nelson for review purposes but it did not influence my thoughts or feelings about the book.


Woe! It’s Wednesday: What I Learned From SATC


I never watched Sex & The City when it was on HBO. For several reasons, the main two being that we weren’t HBO subscribers and also because good Christian women didn’t watch that show.


Kim Cattrall, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon at event of Sex and the City

But when the first movie came out, it got pretty good reviews and it was said that a person who’d never seen the show could get up to speed and enjoy it. So I went and I did.

Then movie 2 came out. Eh.

But then I got curious about the series. If I saw an episode on a non-HBO network like TNT, E!, or Style I’d sit and watch it. These networks have cleaned it up. Words and phrases are bleeped. Everyone’s dressed, pretty much. Some scenes are cut or edited.

I write contemporary women’s fiction, humorous romance mostly. I like to keep up on what’s current and popular, so a few months ago I decided to take the plunge and DVR the series. [I know the series is no longer either current or popular, but you know what I mean. I hope.]

I’ve seen most of the episodes now, though there are a few I’ve missed.

Something surprising happened along the way.

I’ve learned a few things.

I’ve learned that:

  • True friends stick together no matter what. That even if you get angry and say hateful things, your friends have to forgive you because they’re your friends. Example: Miranda to Carrie: “Wake up, Carrie. How many more times are you going to go through this? He’s bad for you. Every time you get near him you turn into this pathetic, needy insecure victim. And the thing that pisses me off the most is that you’re more than willing to go right back for more.” Ouch. Angry? Yep. True? Yep, again. It was a bump in their relationship, but Carrie forgave Miranda, even though she still didn’t believe her. And Miranda remained friends with Carrie even though she knew she’d have to pick Carrie up and help her when Big crushed her heart yet again.
  • You don’t need masks when you’re with true friends. They love the real you. Even the real you who is judgmental and critical and overly sensitive. Carrie: “I revealed too much too soon. I was emotionally slutty.”
  • That when something good (or bad) happens to a friend, you have to get over yourself and rejoice (or cry) with them. Example: Charlotte, broken-hearted about her infertility to pregnant Miranda who almost had a abortion: “We’re going to be aunts!” The joy mingled with grief on Charlotte’s face will break your own heart.
  • There’s wisdom to be found even in a show about shoes, sex, and shopping: Carrie: “ … the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you you love, well, that's just fabulous.”

Who’d a thunk it?


Book Talk Tuesday: Coming Up


I’m still working on most of the books I mentioned last week. I did finish Dockside. I’ve added a few more to both my Kindle and my physical stack that are waiting to be read.

I’m currently reading

Softly & Tenderly by Sara Evans and Rachel Hauck. I’m only half way done, so next week I’ll post a real review. So far, so excellent.

Also added to the stack:



Tiger Lillie by Lisa Samson.

Samson writes atypical Christian fiction. I missed this one when it was new so I hunted it down on http://www.paperbackswap.com  and scored a copy.


I love Kristan Higgins. Except for one book, My One and Only. I’ve been eyeing this newest one and debating. I read a couple of outstanding reviews, including one that echoed my feelings about her other work. That reviewer compared this one to several of my favorites, so I took the dare and downloaded it to my Kindle. It’s next, as soon as I finish Softly & Tenderly.

Happy Reading!


Fiction Friday: THE BANDBOX HAT

Yes, I’ve missed a few Fridays, thanks to Thanksgiving and some work that came my way and just being busy. Thanks for your patience as we get back to Sarah Jane and her family.

PREVIOUSLY: When Sarah Jane got home from work, there was a sheriff’s patrol car in the driveway. It was Frank, one of Jake’s friends and a man like a brother to Sarah Jane. He said her dad had collapsed and was at the hospital. She rushed there to find that Dad had a heart attack and surgery.


Chapter 13


I watched the pine box as it sank into the ground. My heart followed as my tears dripped off my chin.

A strangled sob and a sniff sounded next to me. I clutched Nathan’s left hand while Carlene had a hold of his right elbow so tightly it’s a wonder he still had blood flow to his fingers. She’d shown up at the hospital with a fruit pizza before the doctor finished his “We did everything possible” speech. We’d been huddled in the waiting area but when he invited us into an even tinier room for a “private consult,” I’d grown cold, already knowing what was coming.

Dad’s heart seized. He collapsed. The doctors tried. Dad died.

Logically, I knew the sequence and what happened, but my emotions couldn’t follow. Dad wasn’t supposed to die, not now, when we might have found Rachael. When he could be reconciled with his oldest daughter. God wouldn’t take him before they’d made up. He wouldn’t do that to us. He’d already taken Momma when she had unfinished business here. Why would he do it again?

But he had. The coffin holding Dad’s earthly shell proved God didn’t care about after all. In spite of the years of going to church, gleaning the orchards and donating to the food bank, buying quilts we didn’t need at the annual Mennonite Central Committee Relief Sale auction in Fresno, in spite of all we did for God, He’d taken Dad.

My tears dried up and a deep fury hardened in my stomach. If we did all those things so God would treat us kindly, why bother? A growing resolve grew. It wasn’t worth it. Doing the right thing all the time and losing my parents anyway. Being stuck in Rosedale, living with my brother and his family like a spinster from a gothic novel, watching my sister and friends move out and move on with real lives.

Pastor Sam was wrapping it up and I forced my attention back to his creased face, kind blue eyes, and tremulous smile. He’d been Dad’s closest friend for longer than I’d been alive.

“Let’s pray,” he said, bowing his head. The rest of the small group gathered around the gravesite followed suit but I stared ahead. Pastor Sam’s scalp glistened with a thin sheen of sweat, the result of wearing a wool suit coat on a May afternoon. His head was ringed with a hair, giving him a beatific aura.

“Amen,” Pastor Sam said. “Amen,” everyone echoed.

I jumped and blinked.

Nathan eased himself loose from both Carlene and me and moved to thank Pastor Sam for performing the service. Anna leaned forward. We locked gazes. Her eyes widened and she jerked her head toward the car.

My jaw clenched but I followed her unspoken directive and made my way to the station wagon so I could get to the church first and make sure the sandwich platters were set out in anticipation of the late lunch we were hosting for all the mourners.

I pulled into the gravel parking lot and put the car into Park then rested my forehead against the steering wheel.

Daddy was gone. Rachael. Momma. I’d felt lonely before, but never so truly alone. Sure, I had four brothers, a sister-in-law, a niece, and assorted friends. But now I was alone in a way I never expected.

A metallic knock jerked my head up. Anna glared at me from the front of the car. With a sigh, I shouldered open the door.

“What’s the use of sending you ahead to help with the setup if you’re just going to sit there and wait for me?” she asked.

“I needed a moment.” I fished in my bag for some lip balm.

“Well, come on, now we’re behind.”

Anna’s sharp tone cut through my grief and I stopped. “I’m not feeling well, Anna. I’m going home.” I turned back to the car.

“Oh, no you don’t. You’re not leaving me alone to do all the work and talk to everyone. He was your father, you know.”

I whirled back to her and took a step forward. “Gee, I almost forgot, my father died. Thanks so much for reminding that I’m an orphan now.”

Anna’s face paled and she took a faltering step away from me. “I just meant—”

“I know what you mean, Anna. And I’m going home.”

“I think that’s a good idea, Sarah Jane. You’re obviously distraught and—”

I didn’t let her continue. I jumped back into the car and had the key in the ignition before she finished her patronizing platitude.

I accelerated out of the parking lot, narrowly missing a Prius turning in. A flash of blonde hair from the driver caught my peripheral vision and I whipped my head around.



Woe! It’s Wednesday: The Golden Rule

I’ve told my husband on several occasions, “Remember when you did that bone-headed thing and I didn’t give you a hard time about it? Well, it’s not because I’m so patient and forgiving. It’s because so that when I mess up, I’ll receive the same grace and mercy that I’ve extended.”

That is how I treat most wrongs I’ve received, both from friends, family and strangers. I’ve counted on God to see that I’ve always (mostly) been kind and gracious and figured that when I did something unthinking or rude, that my past grace would be taken into account and I’d get a freebie (i.e. forgiveness).

Nothing ticks me off more than to have someone whom I’ve forgiven and reconciled with continually dredge up my misdeeds. Usually it’s my husband and I just have to remind him that we’ve had to replace whole cars when he made a mistake. So far, the worst automotive mistake I’ve made cost us a new tire.

I still think grace and mercy are good things. But as I get older, I’m less inclined to be all that forgiving.

I’ve never been a fan of scrambled eggs. About ten years ago, I declared that I’d eaten my limit of them. I believe everyone is allotted so many scrambled eggs to eat in their lifetime. When I reached my allotment, no more could pass my lips.

I’m wondering if forgiveness is like that. If I’ve been given a finite amount of grace and forgiveness to bestow. Am I reaching my allotment any time soon? Do I need to start parceling it out only to close family members?

I’m not bringing this up because I’ve done anything recently that requires a mountain of forgiveness. But I know I could. I’m only one thoughtless word or one inattentive moment from messing up royally.

I sure hope that the person I inevitably hurt still has some of their grace allotment left to bestow on me.

And I’m so grateful that God’s allotment is never ending.

Do I hear an “Amen”?


Book Talk Tuesday: Work Less, Read More?

I have a quandary.

I’ve read 67 books so far this year. I have a stack of physical books that has about 35 books waiting to be read. My Kindle has 74 books in my “To Be Read” category.

I simply don’t have enough hours in my day to do everything well, and still have time to read.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I read. I’ve often said I would curl up and die if I couldn’t read. But there are so many books and so little time.

Here’s a quick look at a few of the books on my stack and in my queue.


I love Harlan Coben. It was the highlight of Bouchercon 2003 for me when I met Mr. Coben and had my picture taken with him. When I acquire a book by him, it usually goes to the top of the stack. It’s on top now, but I just haven’t gotten to it yet.


Front Cover  People have been raving about this series for a couple of years. It’s being made into a movie. I have to read it before I see the movie though.


Another one that everyone is talking about.   Book: What I Learned from a Simple Blessing

I want to read it. I plan to read it. It’s on my Kindle.


I’m currently reading:




My writing teacher/mentor is devouring everything by Susan Wiggs and she insisted I read this one. It’s good, I’m engaged, and I’m enjoying Wiggs’s “Now” and “Then” interweaving of the story.


10 People Every Christian Should Know [Book]  So far, I’ve read about Matthew Henry and Jonathan Edwards. I’d heard of them both, of course, and was even a little familiar with their writings, but this book made them real people living in real times with a real life and real problems and a real family and a real faith that they had to work out and live.


Short, daily readings for the Advent season. I’m loving it! The entries are short enough to be read quickly, but thought-provoking enough that I return to its essence and think about it during my day.


I’m incubating a historical story about a female Bride's Portrait 

photographer during the Civil War. This book was recommended to me as part of my research. I’m enjoying it, although I think the title could have been better. But that’s just me.

What are you reading? or hoping to read soon?


Book Talk Tuesday: Love on the Line

Didn’t I just say that I’d read another Deeanne Gist after I read and reviewed Maid to Match a couple of weeks ago?

Well, I didn’t have to wait long. A friend handed me a copy of Love on the Line and said, “I loved this. I think you will, too.”

She was right.


Georgie Gail is a switchboard operator and bird lover in Brenham, Texas.

Luke Palmer is actually Lucius Landrum, a Texas Ranger, working undercover to find an outlaw train robber. Luke is working with Georgie as a lineman for the phone company. His job is hampered by the community’s regard for the outlaw, who’s known to give some of his ill-gotten gains to the local needy. Georgie is one of the townsfolk who sees Frank Comer as a Texan Robin Hood.

Sparks fly. Love blooms. Birds take flight.

I sure seem to be reviewing a lot of historicals lately, even though I often say I don’t read historicals. I think I’m being converted by the great stories, colorful characters, and well-crafted prose.

One day soon, I may even pick up a historical instead of a contemporary, if given the choice.

It could happen.


Woe! It’s Wednesday–Doing the Right Thing

Someone recently commented to me that they knew the right thing to do in a situation, but they didn’t “feel” like it, so they didn’t do it.

I nodded.

Then later, (palm  slap to forehead), it occurred to me:

I didn’t know doing the right thing was optional.

Wow. The possibilities that opens up.

If I don’t feel like it, I don’t have to visit a sick or dying friend. No one likes hospitals or sick rooms, right, so it must be okay to skip making that final visit. They’ll be gone soon enough, after all.

If I don’t feel like it, I don’t have to take a meal to a sick friend or someone who just had a baby. After all, I’m busy, too, and it’s just too inconvenient to shop, cook, and deliver food.

If I don’t feel like it, I don’t have to send a thank you card in the mail for the person who gave me a gift. After all, I thanked them when they I received it and they know how busy life gets.

If I don’t feel like it, I don’t have to respond and let a hostess know if I’m coming to her party. After all, I have to wait and see what other offers I get for that night. Something more fun may come along.

If I don’t feel like it, I don’t have to return to the store to pay for the item the checker missed in the bottom of my basket. After all, it’s the employees fault and the store is insured against a certain level of loss.

If I don’t feel like it, I don’t have to discipline a misbehaving child. After all, that’s the school’s job, right? To raise my kids?

If I don’t feel like it, I don’t have to apologize for gossiping, slandering, or presuming. After all, I didn’t really mean to do those things, and everyone knows, it only counts as something bad if you meant to do it.


Uhhhh … no.

I do the right thing because it’s the right thing.

  • Whether I feel like it or not.
  • Whether it’s convenient or not.
  • Whether it’s easy or not.

The right thing is the right thing.

What do you think? I hope I’m not alone in this fight for doing the right thing.


Book Talk Tuesday: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle


I’ve been scrapbooking lately and for some reason, nothing I’m reading is appealing to me. When I’m not scrapbooking, playing Words With Friends, or Angry Birds, I just can’t bring myself to read right now. Which is very strange and unlike me. I think it must be that the scrapbooking is using the part of my brain that is normally reading. I don’t know, but it sounds good to me.


A favorite series when I was a child was Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Then I shared the stories with my children. I recently purchased one for my grand-daughter. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lives on!

In the first book, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is presented with problem children. One will never take a bath. Another pair of siblings fight and quarrel all day. There’s a picky eater. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle helps the parents solve the problems with common-sense solutions.

In the following books, she often has a “magic” potion to use. The results are what you’d expect if the problem and/or cure is taken to the extreme.

We’re big fans of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. I just found a TV series on hulu.com based on the books. Start with the books, though, before trying the videos.


Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat


PREVIOUSLY: Sarah Jane tried to call Jesse to get Rachael’s phone number. Anna called Sarah Jane and told her to come home. Sarah Jane ignored her for two hours. When she got home, there was a sheriff’s patrol car in front of the house.


Chapter 12

I pressed the accelerator then skidded to a stop behind the patrol car. When would I learn? Whenever I minimized Anna and her demands, it came back to bite me. Something had happened and I should have been here.

I shoved the car into Park and opened the door all in one motion. “What happened?” I called to Anna and the sheriff deputy standing on the porch. “Oh, hi, Frank.” My breath came a little easier. Frank’s been Jake’s friend for years. He’s like one more brother.

“Glad you could make it, Sarah Jane.” Anna’s voice could have cut through a quilt, batting, backing and all.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know—”

“You mean you didn’t believe me.”

Frank raised a hand. “It’s your dad, Sarah Jane. He collapsed. The ambulance took him to the hospital.”

The bottom dropped out of my stomach and I turned on Anna. “Why didn’t you call me back? And tell me what happened? Why would you let me stay at work when my father—”

“Come on, Sarah Jane.” Frank grabbed my elbow. “I’ll follow you to the hospital.”

I wrenched free and turned back to my sister-in-law. “Anna, how could you?”

“I told you to come home. How is it my fault you dawdled for two hours?” Anna’s thin rationalization left me speechless. I stared at her a moment, then turned and clattered down the porch steps.

Frank was right behind me and in a moment I was following him down the tree-lined lane and onto the main highway.

* * *

Three hours later, I sat in the family waiting area of the Critical Care Unit at Rosedale Community Hospital. Jake was with Dad. My other brothers and Frank filled the rest of the chairs. I’d had three minutes with Dad, holding his hand and stroking his cheek while machines beeped and dripped and put out thin sheets of paper with lines and graphs.

“Tell me again what happened,” I said to Nathan.

“I was spraying in the west orchards. I went to the shop for some tools. I found Dad on the ground just outside. He didn’t answer or respond. I called the ambulance, then Jake and Anna, then Will and Abel. I asked Anna to call you. Frank heard the call on his scanner and he went by the house as soon as he could. He was working an accident out on Highway 16. That’s when you got there.” Nathan stared at his hands. “I still can’t believe it. A heart attack? Dad’s never been sick. Not even a cold. And he has a heart attack all by himself.”

Daniel stood and strode out the door, hitting the wall with his fist as he went by. I stood to follow.

“Let him go.” Abel patted the seat next to him. “He’ll be okay. He’s just worried and it’s better for him to keep busy.”

Footsteps clacked down the hall and we all turned to see who it was. A doctor could be bad news.

Anna entered, holding April’s hand. “How is he?” She scanned the room, but since it was Jake’s turn with Dad, her expression darkened when she didn’t see her husband. “Where’s Jake?”

That was my cue to follow Daniel. I brushed past Anna but gave April’s shoulder a squeeze.

Out in the hallway, I wandered to the big double doors leading to the cardiac intensive care area. Visitors had to be electronically buzzed in by a nurse or someone inside the unit. Only one visitor at a time. And only for five minutes. There were more rules here than in a manual for contract bridge. No outside food or drink. No lingering in the halls.

The doors buzzed and I wheeled around to see Jake coming out.

“How is he?” I rushed to my brother and grabbed his arm.

“The same. We need to talk.” He pulled me close. “Let’s find the others.”

In the waiting room, I sank into the chair by Abel and pulled April into my lap. I ran my hands through her silky hair and smoothed down the flyaway strands.

“Dad had a massive heart attack,” Jake said. “He survived the attack and the surgery here and that’s good. What’s not good is that we don’t know how long he was unconscious before Nathan found him. They’re doing everything they can for him, but he has a long road.”

We all nodded. Jake wasn’t saying anything we hadn’t already surmised from the guarded words and hushed voices.

“I think …” He took a deep breath. “Does anyone know where Dad keeps his will?”


Woe! It’s Wednesday

I’ve skipped a couple of rant weeks just because I didn’t have much to say and I was busy. You’d think with a non-retired husband and an empty nest, I’d have all kinds of time for writing and journaling and reading. Right?


Paper Clip And Notepad Free Stock Photography


I keep paring down my schedule and commitments but I can’t seem to find any more time in my week. The only thing left to cut out is critique groups.

I’m probably in too many. Two that meet weekly, although one tends to be more hit-or-miss. The other is the most helpful of all and it is the last one I’d quit. Another group meets only every three weeks so it doesn’t take a huge chunk of my time.

I’ve also taken a couple of classes recently, trying to expand my spheres of expertise. I enjoyed the script-writing workshop a great deal. The grant-writing is bogging down some, but I’m still getting good info. It’s just that I’m not sure how I’ll be able to implement it when the class is over.

Every year, my resolution is pretty much the same. To live more intentionally. To purposefully keep in touch with long distance friends and family. To visit more. To read more. To spend more time with the people I love and less with those I don’t.

I don’t care where all the flowers have gone. I want to know who took my day and how can I get it back?


Book Talk Tuesday: Maid To Match


For someone who doesn’t read historicals, I’ve been adding quite a few notches to my historical belt recently.

I downloaded Maid to Match because it was a free Kindle download. But it was so good, and I enjoyed it so much, I would have paid for it. In fact, I will pay for future Deeanne Gist titles, so the publisher’s strategy totally paid off when it came to me.

Tillie Reese is head parlormaid at the Vanderbilt mansion. She hopes to be promoted to lady’s maid. Until a tall, handsome stranger hires on as a useful man. Mack Danvers upsets Tillie in all kinds of ways. Including making her doubt her aspirations to see the world through the travels of another woman.

I really enjoyed Maid to Match.

Let me know what you think!


Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat


Previously: Sarah Jane and Jesse talk and she realizes that they took different paths in life for a reason.



Chapter 11

I slept better that night than I would have thought possible. It’s like once I told Jesse that I loved my life and my family and my students, I realized how true it was. Even if Mom hadn’t gotten sick, I would have stayed in Rosedale. It wasn’t just a pretty town in the central San Joaquin Valley. It was my home and it embraced me and gave me all I needed.

The next day I kept returning to the part of the conversation Jesse and I hadn’t finished: How could I reach Rachael? I needed to see and talk to my sister. Ten years was too long to let her stay away. She’d missed Mom’s final months, the funeral service. Her own son’s childhood would be gone all too soon. We couldn’t let any more time pass.

After school I pulled my cell phone from my purse and stared at it. I had never entered Jesse’s parent’s home number, but it didn’t matter. My fingers pressed the keys in the familiar pattern and in just a few seconds I heard it ringing.


“Hi, Mrs. Hofer. It’s—”

“Sarah Jane. How are you, dear?” Her voice, warm as hot cider on a November evening, ignited memories and old longings.

I cleared my throat. “Good. I’m good. Uhh … and you?”

“We’re fine, but I’m afraid Jesse left this morning.”

My heart plummeted, but not the only sense of loss had to do with Rachael, not Jesse. “I’m sorry to hear that. I hoped he could give me Rachael’s phone number.”

“I’m sure he could. How about if I give you his number and you can ask him?”

“Sure. That would be fine.”

She rattled off the digits and I scribbled them on the back of Roseanna Lopez’s book report on The Violet Flash.

We said good-bye and I started to press the keypad again. Just as I finished the area code, the phone vibrated with an incoming call from a blocked number. I tapped the Answer button.


“Sarah Jane. It’s Anna. We need you.”

“Why? What’s going on? I have papers to grade and—”

“Honestly, Sarah Jane, could you just forget about yourself for once? Please come home.” She hung up before I could ask again what was so urgent.

I stared at the phone for a moment, then turned it off and picked up my red pen. Roseanna’s book report still needed to be read. The last time I dropped everything when Anna called with an “emergency” I had rushed home to find that we were out of raisins for her apple cinnamon muffins. Well, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice and me and my money will soon be parted. Or something like that.

v v v

Two hours later, I turned into the lane leading to the house. “Oh, dear God.” I said the words out loud. A sheriff’s car waited at the steps to the front door.


Book Talk Tuesday: The Purity War


Tuesday’s are mostly about fiction, but when I read a particularly stellar non-fiction book, I’ve been known to mention it on the blog.

The Purity War by Dr. James M. Cecy deserves a Book Talk Tuesday review.

Pastor Jim has been teaching on, preaching on, writing about, studying about, speaking on, and living purity for not just years, but decades now. He knows what he’s talking about.

The book is interwoven with lots of Scripture, personal anecdotes and solid teaching. It is designed to be used for both personal and corporate study, for accountability groups, for discipleship. There are discussion questions and accountability worksheets.

The book is broken up into sections with chapters. The sections cover topics relating to personal purity such as The Need, God’s Design, The Way of Escape and The Way Forward, as well as others. It’s a practical guide about how to get pure, if you’re not, and how to stay pure, if you are.

It can be purchased here.

I recommend it!

(Disclaimer: Pastor Jim and his wife and family are personal friends and I helped with the editing and proofing of the manuscript, so I’m not completely unbiased. However, I’m convinced of the need for this book in our families, our churches, and our culture.)

Book Talk Tuesday: Read Down Reading

I’ve been reading like crazy recently. Some are great, some okay. My annual reading goal is 100 books. Usually I make it to between seventy and eighty. This year I’m at sixty-nine so I have a shot at 100.

This last week I read:

Hook, Line & Sinker

Hook, Line & Sinker by Susan May Warren

It’s a E-book I purchased for my Kindle and it’s more of a novella. I read it in an hour or two. Cute fun, but I expect nothing less from Susie.


US Hardcover 

J.D. Robb’s Indulgence in Death.

I love all the Lt. Eve Dallas books and this one is superb as usual. I love how Eve is becoming more of a well-rounded person but hasn’t lost her kick-ass edge.


Lost Melody By Lori Copeland

Lost Melody by Lori Copeland and Virginia Smith. A lovely story of letting go of dreams and embracing new hopes.


The You I Never Knew by Susan Wiggs. Solid and well written, as I expect from Susan. My only quibble: the book takes place during a frigid winter. I kept expecting spring and the scene from the cover. Note to publisher: Read the book (or talk to the author) before designing cover art.

Fireside, also by Susan Wiggs. I’ve read a couple of her Lakeshore Chronicles books and really enjoy them because I recently visited an area of New York state that could easily stand in for Avalon and the Willow Lake area. This one is just as good. Note to publisher: The cover fits! Someone did their job.

Thanks for reading. In 2012 my blog will be changing. A lot. Changing names. Contests with giveaways will happen. It’s a step of faith for me and an exercise in consistency.


Fiction Friday: The Bandbox Hat

The Bandbox Hat


In the previous chapter: Jesse told Sarah Jane and her family that he brought her long lost sister Rachael to town but she left when she called her ex-husband’s home to visit her son and the new wife answered the phone. Sarah Jane was angry that Jesse let her go and she ran inside and up the stairs.

Chapter Ten

I just reached the top of the stairs when I knew I had to turn around and go back down. I was behaving like a petulant thirteen year-old whose mother told her to take out the garbage in the middle of a Justin Bieber song. I was too old to be a Blieber and April and Nathan shared the trash chore.

My feet clomped down so the group still on the porch would know I was coming. I paused at the screen. “I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.”

Jesse flashed a look at Nathan and Anna. “May I talk with Sarah Jane alone?”

Nathan immediately stood and reached out a hand to Anna. Her jaw tightened but she took it and allowed him to pull her inside.

“I’m sorry, Sarah Jane. I didn’t know it would hurt you for me to come back to town.” Jesse’s eyes never blinked or broke contact with mine.

I had to look away. “You give yourself too much credit.”

“I don’t mean it that way. You were an amazing girl back then and I’m sure you’re even more amazing now as a woman and a teacher. I was stupid to think you’d wait for me when I left for college.”

A horde of angry gnats started buzzing in my ear. “That’s not what happened, Jesse.” I took a deep breath and sat on the wicker rocker. “You never asked me to wait. You took the scholarship money and you ran to Boston. You never considered staying and going to college here.”

“You could have come with me. You had the same offer.”

“You know that’s not true. Rachael had just left, my mom had just been given a terminal diagnosis. April was a newborn and Anna couldn’t get out of bed with postpartum depression. The last thing I could have done was leave and go to college across the country.”

“Did your staying change any of those things?” Even as a high schooler, Jesse had that ability to be sensible and spout out things that were true on the surface but missed the emotional heart of things by a country mile.

“You still don’t get it.” I took a deep breath. “I thought after seven years, your emotional maturity might have caught up with the rest of you, but you’re still a selfish boy who can only think about how things impact you. Yes, my mom died whether I was in Rosedale or Boston or Nairobi. But if I’d left, I would have lost those last few months of memories.”

“And you wouldn’t still be stuck in this town in the dust, teaching kids of migrant workers.”

“This town and its teachers gave you a pretty good start at your life. You think the east coast schools came calling because you were naturally smart?”

“You know what I mean. I love Rosedale. I just outgrew it.”

Understanding flooded my heart and the final bits of stained glass fell off my eyes. “That’s convenient, Jesse. I just realized I’ve outgrown you. Finally. You can go now.”

Jesse stared at me and he must have seen my new resolve because he slowly got to his feet and headed to the steps down to the driveway. “Just remember, Sarah Jane, you made a choice back then. It’s not my fault your life didn’t go the way you thought it would.”

“You are exactly right, Jesse Hofer. Nothing in my life is your fault. And I thank God for that because you’re also not responsible for any of my blessings. A family who loves me, a niece who adores my rollkuchen, and a classroom of kids of all nationalities who want to be in Rosedale.”

He nodded once before turning and leaving. The rattle of his dad’s truck echoed long after he turned out of our lane and onto the main road.

I sat and rocked and thought and prayed.


Woe! It’s Wednesday

I took a couple weeks off ranting. Not that I didn’t have anything to rant about, but I thought I might come off as too cranky. You know the saying: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

Now, I can’t remember what was so upsetting that I couldn’t even talk about it. That’s the way it goes. Time really does have a way of healing things. Many things. Not all.

I did have someone recently handle a sticky situation in a good way. It was so refreshing to experience. I’d had another similar situation in the last year or so that was handled in exactly the opposite manner and it was so hurtful, so disrespectful, and so wrong. This new one was joyful, right, and wonderful. And so easy to do it right.

I’m trying to remember this. There’s a good way and a bad way to handle relationships. I hope and pray I choose the good.


Book Talk Tuesday: A Lasting Impression


I’ve said before that I’m not a big historical novel reader, yet I continue to read them and enjoy them. So I guess now I am. If the novel has great characters who come alive in my mind, vivid settings and compelling stories.

A Lasting Impression by Tamera Alexander has all of the above.

Set just after the Civil War in Nashville, A Lasting Impression is the story of Claire Laurent, a young woman with a talent for painting. Too bad her father forced her to paint forgeries which he sold in his gallery.

Clair has to flee the gallery and her home and ends up employed at the grandest mansion in Nashville, and in hiding from her father’s business associate. She grows particularly close to another member of the household, a young lawyer who happens to be investigating rumors of fraudulent painting sales.



From it’s beautiful embossed cover to the vivid descriptions of the art to the lovely prose, A Lasting Impression is a delight to read and savor.

I highly recommend it.

(NOTE: I received a free copy of A Lasting Impression to read and review. This did not influence my feelings or thoughts about the book. It’s so good, I’d pay for it! And I will, since I plan to buy copies for friends and family member whom I know will it enjoy as much as I did.)


Book Talk Tuesday: That Old Cape Magic


A friend of mine says his most favorite book of all time is Straight Man by Richard Russo.

Straight Man

I read it and enjoyed it. My writing teacher/mentor often mentions the movie Nobody’s Fool when she talks about character development. The movie is based on the book of the same name by Richard Russo.

                                       Nobody's Fool


A couple of weeks ago I was browsing in a bookstore. Which, by the way, is getting harder and harder to do, but I digress. I picked up a copy of That Old Cape Magic by Russo. I read the inside flap and decided to give it a shot.

                                                                                                  From the Trade Paperback edition

I expected to love it.

I loved parts of it. I loved the writing.

The contemporary story never grabbed me. I kept reading because I liked the main character’s backstory and reading about his childhood and his atrocious parents.

Jack Griffin and his wife attend a wedding on Cape Cod, the place where Griffin’s academician parents took him every summer. His father is recently deceased and Griffin can’t seem to get over it and let his father go. Figuratively and literally, since he’s driving around with an urn of ashes in the trunk of his car.

A year passes. Another Cape wedding. Griffin’s eyes are opened to just how much of an influence his parents had on him.

I really did like the backstory portions. They came alive in both Griffin’s and his mother’s voices. She was a piece of work.

I’ve read other criticism that Russo’s female characters aren’t fully developed and sure enough, Joy Griffin, Jack’s wife, felt as real as a paper doll and about as substantial. His mother was real, but she was … ummm … well, I can’t say what she is in a family blog.

If you’ve read other Russo work, I’d say give That Old Cape Magic a try. If you’re new to Russo, start with Straight Man. It’s better.


Book Talk Tuesday: Wings of a Dream


I just finished Anne Mateer’s debut novel, Wings of a Dream.


I loved it!

I’m not a big historical fan but I was hooked from the beginning. Anne drew me in with real characters and a compelling story.

Rebekah Hendricks yearns to live a life of adventure, far from her small Oklahoma hometown. She and a visiting young aviator plan a soaring future. Arthur returns to his air field in Texas and Rebekah’s presence is also needed in Texas: to tend to her ailing aunt. Arriving just before her aunt dies of the Spanish Influenza, Rebekah finds herself with her aunt’s four young motherless charges to care for. Their father is off fighting in World War I. Rebekah’s heart and emotions careen like a panicked horse when Arthur’s plans diverge from hers. The local sheriff comes calling. Then the children’s father returns. Should Rebekah follow her dreams or her heart?

Set in 1918 and 1919, I felt Anne Mateer really made the era come alive. Whether people are battling Spanish Influenza or Swine Flu, World War I or Desert Storm, hearts and human nature are much the same.

I’m so pleased to be able to highly recommend Wings of a Dream. Let me know what you think!


Disclaimer: I know Anne personally and I was furnished a copy of Wings of a Dream for review purposes, but neither factor influenced my review and recommendation. They just made my life a little easier.


Woe! It’s Wednesday


We’re back from our trip and it was amazing! It lived up to and exceeded all my expectations.

We did have some problems. Getting out of town and on our way turned out to be a major issue. We had a cancelled flight, a misbooked flight, and a delayed flight, which meant we missed our connection. We reached our destination about 18 hours later than we hoped.

Then, as we finally arrived and got our rental car, I was tossing a bag into the back of the car, standing on my toes to give it a good shove when I felt a POP on the back of my knee and severe pain. I could hardly walk for the rest of the day. With pain killers on board, I was able to hobble around and do most things, but I was so discouraged.

I walked miles and hours getting ready for this trip so I could keep up. I slowed everyone down immensely. They were very kind, but I know we could have done more and seen more if I was moving more quickly.

Some highlights:

In Washington, DC, we took a Segway tour and had a blast! The Segway has a small learning curve but we mastered it in under 5 minutes and were led down the streets of DC and onto the Mall and around the memorials. If you get the chance, DO IT!

Summer, fall 2011 101

Getting the instructions

Seeing the DC memorials at night. They are wonderful during the day, but, in particular, the Lincoln and the Korean War memorials are especially haunting at night.

Summer, fall 2011 107

The Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial at night


In New York, we saw The Lion King on Broadway. The costumes and masks and puppets are as amazing as you’ve heard.

Summer, Fall, trip 2011 151


The very real and lasting impact of 9/11 in New York. We weren’t able to get passes to the new memorial at the World Trade Center but we did get to see the site and witness the new construction. We visited several other 9/11 memorials in New Jersey, including the Teardrop in Bayonne, NJ which is moving. We were puzzled by how hard it was to find the Teardrop memorial and when we did arrive, we had it to ourselves. It’s Bayonne’s best kept secret.


Summer, Fall, trip 2011 128  Summer, fall 2011 251

Visiting Hamilton, NY where my father-in-law grew up. We were able to go inside his home and look around the ground floor and the yard. 

Summer, Fall, trip 2011 208



We were gone two weeks, which is a long time, but we had so much to see and do that we felt rushed and constrained by time limits. I’m thinking of this first trip as our scouting expedition. We need to go again to see the things we missed or rushed through.

If you’ve been to NY or DC, what was your highlight?


Book Talk Tuesday: There You’ll Find Me


I’ve enjoyed other Jenny B. Jones titles, so I picked up her newest, There You’ll Find Me.

Since it’s written for a young adult audience, I don’t quite fit its targeted demographic but I still found it an engrossing and charming book.


There You'll Find Me by Jenny B Jones


Finley Sinclair is traveling to Ireland as an exchange student. She’s also still grieving her brother and practicing for her audition to a prestigious music school.

She meets Beckett Rush on the plane. Beckett is an actor filming a movie in Finley’s new hometown. His reputation precedes him and Finley is not interested in becoming a broken heart left behind by one of Hollywood’s biggest partiers.

Beckett convinces Finley that he’s not quite the bad boy the tabloids portray him as and they forge a friendship, helping each other overcome the hurdles in their paths.

There You’ll Find Me is a lovely story of finding the future when you let go of the past. Not forgetting the past, but treasuring it as a part of what makes you you.

I highly recommend it. 


Woe! It’s Wednesday


If all went according to schedule, we’re in Hamilton, New York now, visiting the town where my father-in-law grew up. We hope to see his childhood home. My husband was there as a child but not since. We’re there with some other family, touring the town and seeing the sights. Hamilton is the home of Colgate University. There should be lots to see, people to meet, and memories to stow away.

We’ll be staying at the Colgate Inn.

Stories to come, I’m sure.




Book Talk Tuesday

I love these books. A cracking good mystery. A bit of romance.

They’re set in a fictional San Luis Obispo called San Celina. Benni Harper is a still-grieving widow at the beginning of the first book, Fools Puzzle. She’s the curator of folk art museum and a quilter. Each of the books is named for a quilt block. They should be read in order, for the most part.


The author, Earlene Fowler, does a great job weaving the mystery and creating unforgettable characters in the process. The latest is

Spider Web.

I haven’t read it yet, but I’m sure it’s just as good as the previous ones.

Earlene has also written two stand-alones.

The Saddlemaker’s Wife:


Love Mercy.



Woe! It’s Wednesday

Well, by the time this is posted (I hope. Unless I schedule it wrong again … see last week’s post for more info on that), I’ll have toured the White House and a Smithsonian or two. The Capitol building is on the agenda for today.


I’ve never been to the east coast or to Washington DC and I’m looking forward to seeing the sites that have played such an important role in our country’s history.


I’m excited and dreading it at the same time. I’m easily moved to tears when I’m surrounded by history and pageantry and symbols of sacrifice. I once burst into tears in the Sacramento Railroad Museum when we climbed into a simulated train car on the rails. It rocked and pitched just like the real thing. I think it was either a sleeper or a mail car. I may not remember the details but I do remember being overwhelmed at the thought that a whole way of life has disappeared from our culture.

We’ll see memorials to great Americans who are lauded in the history books and memorials to other great American’s whose names weren’t recorded in any book but who gave their all for our country.

I’ll be the one with the sunglasses and the tissues.


Book Talk Tuesday

I’m packing for a cross-country flight and vacation. For the first time since I got it, my Kindle will be the only book I bring. I’m kind of looking forward to the extra room in the suitcase. I can bring more shoes! But it’s going to be strange, too.

The books I’m looking forward to reading on this trip are:


Sons of Thunder Sons of Thunder by Susan May Warren


Stars Collide: A Novel (Backstage Pass)When Stars Collide By Janice Thompson



Book: What I Learned from a Simple Blessing  Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent

That should get me there. I’ll be reviewing these when I get home. Stay tuned …


Fiction Friday

The Bandbox Hat is on a brief hiatus. We’ll continue with Sarah Jane, Rachael, and Jesse in October. Which is good because I have no idea what’s going to happen next.


Woe! It’s Wednesday Redux

Boy, is my face red.


I often write my posts ahead of time and schedule them for the appropriate day, which is what I did for today’s post. Except I clicked the wrong teeny little square and it posted a day early.


What makes it more ironic is that I decided to go ahead and write ahead for the two weeks I thought I was going to miss and schedule them as usual, and I was going to delete that post, only to find it had already gone live.

Some weeks, that’s just how it goes.

What have you done in a hurry, thinking you were being so proactive and organized only to discover later that you messed it up?

I know you’ve done it, too.

Come on, ‘fess up!


Book Talk Tuesday


I’m not really into Amish fiction, but I read this one on a friend’s recommendation.

Amish Midwife


The Amish Midwife by Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould.

Lexie is looking for answers. She was adopted into a Mennonite family in Oregon. With both parents now dead, it seems a good time to search for her birth family in Pennsylvania. Armed with a carved wooden box, some locks of hair, and a quilt, she arranges to work as a nurse-midwife in Pennsylvania.

A request from a friend of a friend brings her to Marta, a lay midwife with problems and secrets galore.

The authors did a good job weaving the various story threads together. I guessed the plot twists, but I still wanted to read how they explained the circumstances and they did a good job at that.

The Amish are portrayed lovingly, warts and all. The Plain lifestyle is neither patronized nor glorified.

I may just pick up another Amish fiction title one day!

Thanks again, Karen!

Woe! It’s Wednesday



I have nothing to complain about today. I’m too busy.

This will be the last blog post for a few weeks. I had to skip Fiction Friday last week. I have a very busy few weeks ahead and am taking a short break from blogging.

Posts will return on Oct 4th. Until then, play nicely with each other. Read. Hug a family member. Eat a peach.