Monday, March 30, 2020

Book Review: A Book by Its Cover (Secrets of Mary's Bookshop #6) by Elizabeth Adams

A Book by Its Cover (Secrets of Mary's Bookshop, #6)

A Book by Its Cover (Secrets of Mary's Bookshop #6)
Author:  Elizabeth Adams
Publisher:  Thorndike Press (2014) Published by arrangement with Guideposts
339 pages
Genre:  Cozy Mystery

This is a unique series in two ways.  One, while it is a mystery series, there are no murders involved.  Two, each book is written by a different author.  I wondered if the authors would be able to maintain the character development from book to book.  They have done an exceptional job.  

Our heroine is Mary.  After her husband passed away, she sold their house in Boston and moved in with her sister Betty, who is also a widow.  Mary and her husband had a dream of opening a bookshop, but he passed away before they could realize their dream.  Betty lives in Ivy Bay, a town in the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts, where Mary and Betty spent some time in their childhood.  Mary has opened Mary's Mystery Bookshop in a quaint old building on the main street in town.

In this book, Mary is trying to solve a mystery involving a box of old books that were left outside the shop.  The books seem familiar to her and with the help of her sister, she realizes their mother had books like these.  When a note written by their mother falls from one of the books, Mary and Betty are shocked.  Who dropped these books outside of Mary's shop?  Why are there notes written by their mother to a man who was not their father in the books?  Mary is determined to find answers.

Mary is someone I would like to be friends with.  I appreciate the relationship she has with her sister and the ways they help one another out.  I love books written by authors that contain descriptions of daily details.  These books have plenty of those with descriptions of meals eaten, clothing worn, cozy living areas, charming stores and restaurants.  These types of descriptions help me get to know the characters and the setting by painting a picture in my mind of their surroundings.

The mystery is an interesting puzzle to solve that introduces Mary to new people.  There is a faith element woven throughout and Mary seems to learn something about herself and others in each book.  Some of the themes are: deception, love, judging by appearances, the past, helping others, family and the importance of friends.  

I always leave Ivy Bay feeling hopeful and looking forward to the next installment of Secrets of Mary's Bookshop.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

My Safer At Home Reading Stack

As of yesterday morning, our state is under a Safer-At-Home Order.  I am so thankful my husband suggested we venture out to the library last week.  It turned out we chose the right night to go.  While I was collecting books to check out, my husband asked a library employee if there was any word on them closing due to the virus.  The employee said they had just received word that they would be open for one more hour and then closed until April 6th!  My leisurely stroll through the library turned into a frenzied search for books that I might want to read over the next several weeks.  As it stands now, they won't be opening until April 24th.  Considering that I have already finished a few of these, my pile is looking a little small.  But, that will be the perfect time to read books from my own shelves.  

Our daily lives have not changed much.  My husband does a job that is considered essential so he is working each day.  We are thankful for that.  I am continuing to do what I do every day - cooking, cleaning, caring for our home, working on our online selling business, keeping in touch with family, reading and teaching.  I co-teach a homeschool high school class and we were able to meet virtually.
Today the sun is shining and it feels like spring.  I am thankful that we can get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather.

I hope you are staying well!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Book Review: Oath of Honor by Lynette Eason

Oath of Honor (Blue Justice, #1)

Oath of Honor (Blue Justice #1)
Author:  Lynette Eason
Publisher:  Fleming H. Revell (2018)
363 pages
Genre:  Suspense

First Line:  "Officer Izzy St. John plopped down at the table of one of Columbia, South Carolina's, finest Chinese restaurants and opened the fast-food carton of General Tso's chicken and white rice."

Isabelle (Izzy) St. John is part of a large family with many members in law enforcement.  In fact, her mother is the current Chief of Police.  They are a close family that meets for Sunday dinner each week at the elder St. Johns' home.  Her parents still live in the home Izzy grew up in.

Across the street is the Marshall family.  Ryan Marshall is the oldest of three boys in the Marshall family.  He and his brother Kevin are in law enforcement.  Their other brother was in the military and was killed in the line of duty.  The St. John's and the Marshall's have known one another for years.

Izzy and Kevin Marshall are law enforcement partners.  Kevin receives information from an informant about some illegal guns in the area.  He asks her to go on a stakeout with him.  She agrees, even though it is her day off.  After watching the building for a few hours, Kevin see some movement near one of the doors.  He asks Izzy to look through the binoculars to check for cameras on the building.  While she is occupied with this, Kevin slips out of the car and runs toward the building.  When Izzy realizes what he has done, she follows him.  What is Kevin thinking?  Will the gun runners see him?  Will Izzy be able to back him up before it's too late?

This book has all the things that make for a great suspense novel; well-developed characters, a well-crafted mystery with lots of suspense and a little romance to lighten things up.  The action starts early in the story and doesn't let up until the mystery is solved.  The family dynamics in the St. John family are great!  They are a loving family with strong personalities, which makes for exciting conversations.  I would love to have Sunday dinner with them some time.  Both characters are dealing with issues from their past while also growing in their faith. 

Some of the themes in the book are trauma, grief, proving yourself, courage, family, betrayal and faith.

After several twists and turns the story comes to a satisfying conclusion.  I can't wait to read the second book in the series!  

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Book Review: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

Digital Minimalism:  Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World
Author:  Cal Newport
Publisher:  Portfolio (2019)
304 pages
Genre:  Non-fiction

"I am one of the few members of my generation to never have a social media account, and tend not to spend much time web surfing.  As a result, my phone plays a relatively minor role in my life - a fact that places me outside the mainstream experience this article ['I Used to Be a Human Being', Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine, September 2016] addressed."

It is because his phone plays a minor role in his life that Cal Newport has been able to write six books while holding a full-time job as an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, as well as finding time to be a husband and father.  What I love about this book is that it not only addresses the problem of spending too much time in the digital world, but it suggests a solution to the reader and gives specific steps that can be taken to gain control of your digital life.

The book is made up of two parts.  Part one is titled Foundations.  Part two, Practices.  In part one Newport identifies the problem with real life examples and research.  Then he introduces his suggestion for gaining control of your digital life - digital minimalism.  

Digital Minimalism
A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.

He contrasts this with the maximalist philosophy that most people employ by default - "a mind-set in which any potential for benefit is enough to start using a technology that catches your attention".  For example, maintaining a Facebook account because you might miss out on something or because all your friends or co-workers have an account rather than because it supports your values.  He goes on to give several real-life examples of people he interviewed who he would call digital minimalists and explains what their digital life looks like and why.

In the third chapter he presents a suggestion towards a process for rapidly becoming a digital minimalist.  He calls it a digital declutter and explains the guidelines and reasons for them, along with some feedback from people who tried this.  One of the things he stresses in order to be successful at this, is that you need to think about what you are going to replace the time you currently spend on your phone or computer with once you start the declutter.  Most people find the first week or two to be very uncomfortable and if you haven't already thought through what you are going to do with your time, chances are greater that you will return to your digital habits.

The second part of the book deals with Practices - habits, things to do going forward that will make your life better.  The first practice is solitude.  In this chapter Newport points out that many of us spend our entire day imputing information into our brains, whether it is scrolling through social media, clicking between blogs, listening to music or podcasts, watching Netflix or Youtube, reading books or even conversing with someone else.  Solitude is a state where your mind is left to wander and focus only on your own thoughts and experiences.  He gives many examples of people who lived by this practice and what they accomplished.  He discusses why solitude is valuable.  He looks into some research that suggests lack of solitude makes people anxious.  And finally, he offers suggestions for making this a practice in your life.

The final three practices are:  Don't Click "Like", Reclaim Leisure and Join the Attention Resistance.  In each chapter he illustrates the practice, gives real-life examples and suggests ways to incorporate these practices in your life and why you should.  

While I do not have any social media accounts, I do enjoy reading blogs.   Often, when reading blogs, I find that a much longer period of time has passed than I intended.  Many times, I will realize I opened up my computer for a specific purpose, but after following several rabbit trails, I can't remember what that purpose was.  

Digital Minimalism offers many good suggestions for taking better control of your digital life and reclaiming this time for better purposes.  It encourages you to take a good look at your life and determine what your values are and then make plans to live in a way that supports those things.  The digital world is here to stay and it has many benefits.  What many of us lack is a philosophy of technology use - "something that covers from the ground up which digital tools we allow into our life, for what reasons, and under what constraints".  As Newport says, "In the absence of this introspection, we'll be left struggling in a whirlwind of addictive and appealing cyber-trinkets, vainly hoping that the right mix of ad hoc hacks will save us."

If you are struggling with your digital life or are interested in what others may be struggling with, I highly recommend this book.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Book Review: The Frontiersman's Daughter by Laura Frantz

The Frontiersman's Daughter

The Frontiersman's Daughter
Author:  Laura Frantz
Publisher:  Revell (2009)
413 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction

Kentucke, Indian Territory, 1777
In the fading lavender twilight, at the edge of a clearing, stood half a dozen Shawnee warriors.  They looked to the small log cabin nestled in the bosom of the greening ridge, as earthy and unassuming as the ground it sat upon.

Living in the small log cabin is the Click family.  Ezekial Click's thirteen-year-old daughter, Lael, is known to the Shawnee as "Ezekial's pretty daughter".  She has long, fair hair that is so different from the Shawnee ebony hair.  While it frightens her when they ask to see her, she remembers her father's warning to never give way to fear in an Indian's sight and bravely steps into view.  As Lael stands next to her father, the Shawnee look at her and then leave.  

The story begins when Lael is thirteen and covers the next seven or eight years of her life.  Lael considers herself a frontier woman, but when her childhood sweetheart asks her father for his permission to marry her, her father refuses.  Ezekial Click has never liked Simon and fears he will not be faithful to his daughter.  Without much discussion it is decided that Lael will go to Boston to finishing school.  She feels quite out of place in Boston and has very little desire to become "a lady". She eventually makes her way back to the cabin in Indian Territory, but many things have changed while she was away.  She was so eager to get home, but she finds home is not what she remembered it to be.  Will she ever find love again?  

I loved the historical setting.  The relationships between the Indians and the frontier families were interesting, as were the quarrels between frontier families.  Lael is a spirited, stubborn and fickle young woman.  Her fickleness annoyed me at times, but I felt better when she could see it herself and realized she should not be that way.  That struggle was her biggest one.  She longs to be loved and because of this seems to be attracted to each male that shows interest in her.  However, society at the time found it inappropriate for a man and woman who were not married to be alone together and it was this belief that kept her from doing something she would later regret.  Lael has a heart for others who need help and often visits those who don't have many visitors.  She also holds grudges against those who have hurt her or those she loves.  Forgiving is another one of her struggles.  Life was hard on the frontier.  One had to work hard to survive.  There was illness and the fear of Indian attack.  But life was also peaceful and lived close to nature.  You had to depend on others in order to survive.

If you enjoy sweeping historical novels with a strong female lead, I recommend this book.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Book Review: The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck

The Fifth Avenue Story Society

The Fifth Avenue Story Society
Author:  Rachel Hauck
Publisher:  Thomas Nelson (2020)
400 pages
Genre:  Inspirational Contemporary Fiction

Five people receive an invitation to The Fifth Avenue Story Society.  All five decide to attend, even though not one of them is sure who sent them the invitation, who will be there or what to expect when they arrive.  One man knows two of the invitees, the others are strangers.  Each one is struggling with something from their past that is impacting the present, however this is not discovered until much later. 

Jett is a divorced literature professor who has written a book and is in the process of writing a dissertation.

Lexa works for restaurant start-up.  She feels she keeps the company running and should be named its CEO.  She was married to Jett.

Coral is owner and CEO of a cosmetics company started by her great-grandmother.  She is also a celebrity who recently was in the news for leaving the prince of Lauchtenland at the altar.

Ed is a widower with one daughter who is attempting to write a memoir of his wonderful marriage.

Chuck is an Uber driver, who discovered his wife was having an affair.  They have young twins who Chuck is not allowed to see.

What an interesting story concept this is!  I will not soon forget the characters.  Each one has much depth and are people I would like to know.  Of course, each one has flaws, but that is what makes the story interesting.  Each one makes the commitment to continue coming to the Story Society meetings each week even though they are not really sure why they are meeting.  As they continue to meet and become friends, they help one another work out issues in their lives.  Soon they are coming because they enjoy spending time with each other.  It is a hope filled story that will stick with me.

Some of the themes are friendship, dealing with the past, faithfulness, forgiveness, and family.  I highly recommend it.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Book Review: On a Summer Tide by Suzanne Woods Fisher

On a Summer Tide (Three Sisters Island #1)

On a Summer Tide
Author:  Suzanne Woods Fisher
Publisher:  Fleming H. Revell (2019)
320 pages
Genre:  Inspirational Contemporary Fiction

"A week ago, Dad had asked all three girls to come to the house on Sunday afternoon.  He gave no explanation, only that he'd tell them everything then."

Paul Grayson needs a change.  It has been just over two years since his wife passed away.  His youngest daughter is now away at college.  A few months ago he had a bad case of laryngitis and his voice never fully came back.  This makes it impossible to do his job as a sports announcer.  When a friend mentions that the summer camp that Paul and his wife attended is for sale, Paul buys it and sells his house.  Along with the summer camp, he also becomes owner of the part of the island that it is on.  His daughters are shocked and upset.  They think that maybe he had a seizure or a stroke and is talking nonsense.  He assures them that he has not.  Paul has felt that his daughters aren't close anymore, that they are no longer involved in one another's lives and he wants that to change.  The vision Paul has is that his daughters will want to move to the island and help him get the summer camp up and running again.  All three first.  

Cam is part owner of a technology company and is attempting to raise the orphaned child of her best friend.  She is very busy.

"You can't expect us to uproot our lives to help you run a summer camp."
"We all have our own lives.  We can't drop everything and rush to this island.  This is your venture.  Not ours."

End of story.  Or maybe not.  God has other plans for the Grayson family and it was fun to come along for the ride.

I did not immediately connect with the characters in this story.  Cam is actually the heroine.  She is driven and smart, but she see's that her son is suffering from her lack of involvement in his life.
Maddie is constantly using her counselor skills on everyone else and I found that I really didn't like her much.  Blaine is the youngest and just can't seem to figure out what she wants to do with her life.  She is only nineteen after all.  At different times and in varying circumstances, all three end up on the island helping their dad.  

Another character in the story is Seth Walker, the school teacher, worship leader, preacher and jack-of-all-trades on the island.  I really enjoyed his teaching style, which is near and dear to my heart after homeschooling my kids.  He gets the kids outside every day exploring the wonders of God's creation.  They learn by doing.  Others worry that they are not spending enough time on the basics.  But Cam comes to realize this is just the environment her son needed and watches him blossom.  It was interesting to learn about falcons as Seth rescued one and is preparing it to be returned to the wild.  There is a little romance that brews between Seth and Cam.  There are also some surprises along the way.  

By the end of the story, I was looking forward to the next book in the series.  It is an interesting setting for a story and was fun to watch the family work together to improve the camp.  

Monday, March 2, 2020

Book Review: The Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano

The Saturday Night Supper Club (The Saturday Night Supper Club, #1)

The Saturday Night Supper Club (The Saturday Night Supper Club #1)
Author:  Carla Laureano
Publisher:  Tyndale House (2018)
416 pages
Genre:  Inspirational Contemporary Romance

"Three hours into Saturday night dinner service and she was already running on fumes."

Rachel Bishop has worked her way up to being part owner and head chef of Paisley, a casual fine dining restaurant in the heart of Denver's foodie district.  Paisley has only been in operation for a few months and has not yet turned a profit.  Competition is fierce in this market, but Rachel is determined that her restaurant will make it. When local food critic Carlton Espy turns up at the restaurant after writing a review questioning both her cooking and her professional ethics, her business partner thinks she should make a statement to the press.  The same day, an article in The New Yorker by Alexander Kanin appears that makes reference to the review without naming names.  The New Yorker article is defending Rachel, however it is drawing more attention to the review.  Her good friend and media consultant, Ana, suggests that she do an interview to get her point of view out.  Rachel disagrees.  She wants attention for her food, not her personal beliefs.  After a long shift, she is heading to her car when she is approached by a reporter.  Ana has told her to direct all media interaction to her.  However, in the heat of the moment,  Rachel says some things that end up being edited by the reporter to look as if she is saying the opposite of what she is really saying.  Things look bad.  The restaurant was just gaining momentum, will this hurt business?

Alex Kanin despises unfair treatment.  Especially unfairly harsh criticism leveled at people in creative careers.  He had been on the receiving end of plenty of that when his book came out.  However, when he wrote the online article for the The New Yorker, he never expected it to go viral.  When he checks Twitter at the urging of his literary agent, he is stunned.  There are lots of positive Tweets, but there are also Tweets guessing at who the chef he mentioned is.  Alex should be excited about all the buzz, but he has a sinking feeling that he has actually sent more readers to the negative review of Rachel and her restaurant.  

"So why did he feel like he'd done something terrible?"
"It was because he'd inadvertently given those trolls a national stage, which was exactly what they wanted.  And he was profiting from it.  The whole thing made him feel like an ambulance chaser."

He decides he has to contact Rachel and apologize and he must do it in person.  Will she see him?  Will she accept his apology?

What a great book!  It is full of deep characters, delicious food and an irresistible location.  

Rachel is a hard-working, driven woman.  Her restaurant means everything to her, but so do her employees.  They are like family.  It was so interesting to peek into the life of a chef and realize how much work they actually take home with them.  I understand more fully how being a chef is not just a job, it definitely has to be a passion.

Alex is also driven and hard-working.  However, he realizes that his career is just that.  He is passionate about writing, but has learned that it doesn't define him.  Both Rachel and Alex are growing in their faith and we get to see some glimpses of that. They both also have complicated families that have shaped who they are and the decisions they have made.

And the food!  I don't consider myself a foodie, but I enjoyed the interesting food described in the story and the process Rachel goes through to plan a menu.  There were casual food experiences as well at homes and restaurants in the area.

I feel like I visited Denver after reading this book.  The descriptions of locations were so vivid.  I especially have a picture of Alex's rooftop patio.

"As spectacular as the condo had been, the rooftop deck was even more beautiful.  Brick half-walls enclosed it and gave it some privacy from the other patios; potted plants and trees around the outside edges made it a garden wonderland.  A long metal table dominated the center of the wood-decked space, with smaller conversation areas set up among the plants.  He had even strung lights up above.

And the view: she could see all the way south to the edge of the city.  At night, there would be no better place to be."

The book contains themes of hard work, dealing with criticism, our identity, faith, family and of course, food. If you are looking for a light romance with deep characters, great food and a beautiful location I highly recommend this book.