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?