Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Book Review Coming Soon....

but I thought the promo was interesting to I'm reprinting it

Devoted Mommy
Susan DiMickele gives insight to the struggle between “Cathy Career and Susie Stay-At-Home”

Article written by: Susan DiMickele

Who has it easier, a mother who stays at home, or a mother who works outside the home?  Actually, I should probably be asking a different question -- who has it harder.  Motherhood is hard work, no matter how you slice it.

As a wife, mother of three young children, and lawyer who works outside of my home in the face-paced environment of a large law firm, I can’t even begin to answer this question.  Nor would I want to.  Based on my own journey and my limited perceptions about what’s going on in the homes of other women, I can’t advocate one path over another or declare that the path I’ve lived is more or less demanding, exhausting, or rewarding.  Sure, human nature is such that I always tend to believe that no one understands what it’s like to walk in my shoes, but my self-absorbed pity party is hardly unique. 

The short answer is that all mothers work.  And we don’t just work, we work hard.  Instead of focusing on the differences between stay-at-home mothers and mothers who work outside the home, I often wish we could focus on what we have in common.  Shouldn’t the church be a place where we come together?

Let’s face it, there are certain misconceptions about motherhood and careers.  And there has been little healthy dialogue about these stereotypes within the church.

What stereotypes am I talking about?  I’ll start with career women, since I fall into this camp.  (I not only fall into this camp -- as a working mother in a demanding profession who is likewise very passionate about raising my children, I’m the first to acknowledge the constant tension between my two worlds of work and home.) 

Cathy Career is selfish.  She’s careful not to have more than two children because they might interfere with her success.  Her husband is forced to do laundry and fend for himself around the house, and she doesn’t have time to bake cookies or pack her children nutritious lunches, so her family is always eating junk and picking up fast food.  She doesn’t have time to volunteer at church (or get involved in a church for that matter) and she’s lucky if she shows up once a year to volunteer at her kids’ school.  She’s intimidated by stay-at-home moms because she assumes they think she’s a bad mother -- that she’s putting herself or her job before her family.  After all, what’s more important, your family or a paycheck?  Her identity rests on what she does outside the home.

Susie Stay-At-Home is obsessed with her children.  She takes her kids to “Mommy and Me” classes and spends her spare time making homemade jam and elaborate family scrapbooks.  She never buys any new clothes, spends most of her time cooking and cleaning, and she barely gets out of the house -- except when she is volunteering at church or school.  She’s a Sunday School teacher and a proud “Room Mom.”  She serves her husband like a king and never makes him do chores around the house.  She’s intimidated by career women because she assumes they think she doesn’t have ambition -- or worse, that she doesn’t have a brain just because she’s with her children all day.  Her identity rests on what she does inside the home.

Do these stereotypes sound familiar?  While I’ve never met Cathy Career or Susie Stay-At-Home, it didn’t take much imagination on my part to write about these two fictional women.  Yet, in reality, these stereotypes hold little value.  I would go one step further and argue that these stereotypes even hurt us, especially inside the church.  Why drive an artificial wedge between women of faith who desperately need one another?

In reality, mothers who follow Christ have much in common.  For starters, our identity is in Christ.  He defines us.  It’s not about whether we work or stay at home.  It’s not about us, and it’s not about what we do -- it’s about who He is and what He’s done for us.

And when it comes to our children, we’re all on this road of motherhood together.  The world is threatening -- even screaming for -- the hearts and minds of our children.  As mothers, we’re striving to protect their innocence, teach them about Christ and model a life of faith so they can be transformed, not conformed, to the world we live in.  So we pray that our daughters won’t derive their identity from pop culture and our sons will grow up to be honorable men of character.  And while we do our best, we all make mistakes, and we know that God’s grace will far surpass our own efforts every time.

Yes, all mothers work.  We all want the best for our children.  And, as mothers, we really need to come together.  What better place for mothers to unite in faith and values than inside the body of Christ?

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.  I Corinthians 12:1

First Wildcard: The Mailbox

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

Marybeth Whalen is the general editor of For the Write Reason and The Reason We Speakas well as co-author of the book Learning to Live Financially Free. She serves as a speaker for the Proverbs 31 Ministry Team and directs a fiction book club, She Reads, through this same outreach. Most importantly, Marybeth is the wife of Curt Whalen and mother to their six children. She is passionate about sharing God with all the women God places in her path. She has been visiting the mailbox for years.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0781403693
ISBN-13: 978-0781403696



Sunset Beach, NC

Summer 1985

Campbell held back a teasing smile as he led Lindsey across the warm sand toward the mailbox. Leaning her head on Campbell’s shoulder, her steps slowed. She looked up at him, observing the mischievous curling at the corners of his mouth. “There really is no mailbox, is there?” she said, playfully offended. “If you wanted to get me alone on a deserted stretch of beach, all you had to do was ask.” She elbowed him in the side.

A grin spread across his flawless face. “You caught me.” He threw his hands up in the air in surrender.

“I gotta stop for a sec,” Lindsey said and bent at the waist, stretching the backs of her aching legs. She stood up and put her hands on her hips, narrowing her eyes at him. “So, have you actually been to the mailbox? Maybe the other kids at the pier were just pulling your leg.”

Campbell nodded his head. “I promise I’ve been there before. It’ll be worth it. You’ll see.” He pressed his forehead to hers and looked intently into her eyes before continuing down the beach.

“If you say so …” she said, following him. He slipped his arm around her bare tanned shoulder and squeezed it, pulling her closer to him. Lindsey looked ahead of them at the vast expanse of raw

coastline. She could make out a jetty of rocks in the distance that jutted into the ocean like a finish line.

As they walked, she looked down at the pairs of footprints they left in the sand. She knew that soon the tide would wash them away, and she realized that just like those footprints, the time she had left

with Campbell would soon vanish. A refrain ran through her mind: Enjoy the time you have left. She planned to remember every moment of this walk so she could replay it later, when she was back at home, without him. Memories would be her most precious commodity. How else would she feel him near her?

“I don’t know how we’re going to make this work,” she said as they walked. “I mean, how are we going to stay close when we’re so far away from each other?”

He pressed his lips into a line and ran a hand through his hair. “We just will,” he said. He exhaled loudly, a punctuation.

“But how?” she asked, wishing she didn’t sound so desperate.

He smiled. “We’ll write. And we’ll call. I’ll pay for the longdistance bills. My parents already said I could.” He paused. “And we’ll count the days until next summer. Your aunt and uncle already said you could come back and stay for most of the summer. And you know your mom will let you.”

“Yeah, she’ll be glad to get rid of me for sure.” She pushed images of home from her mind: the menthol odor of her mother’s cigarettes, their closet-sized apartment with parchment walls you could hear the neighbors through, her mom’s embarrassing “delicates” dangling from the shower rod in the tiny bathroom they shared. She wished that her aunt and uncle didn’t have to leave the beach house after

the summer was over and that she could just stay with them forever.

The beach house had become her favorite place in the world. At the beach house, she felt like a part of a real family with her aunt and uncle and cousins. This summer had been an escape from the reality of her life at home. And it had been a chance to discover true love. But tomorrow, her aunt and uncle would leave for their home and send her back to her mother.

“I don’t want to leave!” she suddenly yelled into the open air, causing a few startled birds to take flight.

Campbell didn’t flinch when she yelled. She bit her lip and closed her eyes as he pulled her to him and hugged her.

“Shhh,” he said. “I don’t want you to leave either.” He cupped her chin with his hand. “If I could reverse time for you, I would. And we would go back and do this whole summer over.”

She nodded and wished for the hundredth time that she could stand on the beach with Campbell forever, listening to the hypnotic sound of his voice, so much deeper and more mature than the boys at school. She thought about the pictures they had taken earlier that day, a last-ditch effort to have something of him to take with her. But it was a pitiful substitute, a cheap counterfeit for the real thing.

Campbell pointed ahead of them. “Come on,” he said and tugged on her hand. “I think I see it.” He grinned like a little boy. They crested the dune and there, without pomp or circumstance,

just as he had promised, stood an ordinary mailbox with gold letters spelling out “Kindred Spirit.”

“I told you it was here!” he said as they waded through the deep sand. “The mailbox has been here a couple of years,” he said, his tone changing to something close to reverence as he laid his hand on top

of it. “No one knows who started it or why, but word has traveled and now people come all the way out here to leave letters for the Kindred Spirit—the mystery person who reads them. People come from all over the world.”

“So does anybody know who gets the letters?” Lindsey asked. She ran her fingers over the gold, peeling letter decals. The bottom half of the n and e were missing.

“I don’t think so. But that’s part of what draws people here— they come here because this place is private, special.” He looked down at his bare feet, digging his toes into the sand. “So … I wanted to bring you here. So it could be our special place too.” He looked over at her out of the corner of his eye. “I hope you don’t think that’s lame.”

She put her arms around him and looked into his eyes. “Not lame at all,” she said.

As he kissed her, she willed her mind to record it all: the roar of the waves and the cry of the seagulls, the powdery softness of the warm sand under her feet, the briny smell of the ocean mixed with the scent of Campbell’s sun-kissed skin. Later, when she was back at home in Raleigh, North Carolina, she would come right back to this moment. Again and again. Especially when her mother sent her to her room with the paper-thin walls while she entertained her newest boyfriend.

Lindsey opened the mailbox, the hinges creaking as she did. She looked to him, almost for approval. “Look inside,” he invited her.

She saw some loose paper as well as spiral-bound notebooks, the kind she bought at the drugstore for school. The pages were crinkly from the sea air and water. There were pens in the mailbox too, some

with their caps missing.

Campbell pointed. “You should write a letter,” he said. “Take a pen and some paper and just sit down and write what you are feeling.” He shrugged. “It seemed like something you would really get into.”

How well he had come to know her in such a short time. “Okay,” she said. “I love it.” She reached inside and pulled out a purple notebook, flipping it open to read a random page. Someone had written about a wonderful family vacation spent at Sunset and the special time she had spent with her daughter.

She closed the notebook. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. She couldn’t imagine her own mother ever wanting to spend time with her, much less being so grateful about it. Reading the notebook made her feel worse, not better. She didn’t need reminding about what she didn’t have waiting for her back home.

Campbell moved in closer. “What is it?” he said, his body lining up perfectly with hers as he pulled her close.

She laid the notebook back inside the mailbox. “I just don’t want to go home,” she said. “I wish my uncle didn’t have to return to his stupid job. How can I go back to … her? She doesn’t want me there any more than I want to be there.” This time she didn’t fight the tears that had been threatening all day.

Campbell pulled her down to sit beside him in the sand and said nothing as she cried, rocking her slightly in his arms.

With her head buried in his shoulder, her words came out muffled. “You are so lucky you live here.”

He nodded. “Yeah, I guess I am.” He said nothing for a while.

“But you have to know that this place won’t be the same for me without you in it.”

She looked up at him, her eyes red from crying. “So you’re saying I’ve ruined it for you?”

He laughed, and she recorded the sound of his laugh in her memory too. “Well, if you want to put it that way, then, yes.”

“Well, that just makes me feel worse!” She laid her head on his shoulder and concentrated on the nearness of him, inhaled the sea scent of his skin and the smell of earth that clung to him from working

outside with his dad.

“Everywhere I go from now on I will have the memory of you with me. Of me and you together. The Island Market, the beach, the arcade, the deck on my house, the pier …” He raised his eyebrows as

he remembered the place where he first kissed her. “And now here. It will always remind me of you.”

“And I am going home to a place without a trace of you in it. I don’t know which is worse, constant reminders or no reminders at all.” She laced her narrow fingers through his.

“So are you glad we met?” She sounded pitiful, but she had to hear his answer.

“I would still have wanted to meet you,” he said. “Even though it’s going to break my heart to watch you go. What we have is worth it.” He kissed her, his hands reaching up to stroke her hair. She heard his words echoing in her mind: worth it, worth it, worth it. She knew that they were young, that they had their whole lives ahead of them, at least that’s what her aunt and uncle had told her. But she also knew

that what she had with Campbell was beyond age.

Campbell stood up and pulled her to her feet, attempting to keep kissing her as he did. She giggled as the pull of gravity parted them. He pointed her toward the mailbox. “Now, go write it all down for the Kindred Spirit. Write everything you feel about us and how unfair it is that we have to be apart.” He squinted his eyes at her. “And I promise not to read over your shoulder.”

She poked him. “You can read it if you want. I have no secrets from you.”

He shook his head. “No, no. This is your deal. Your private world—just between you and the Kindred Spirit. And next year,” he said, smiling down at her, “I promise to bring you back here, and you can write about the amazing summer we’re going to have.”

“And what about the summer after that?” she asked, teasing him.

“That summer too.” He kissed her. “And the next.” He kissed her again. “And the next.” He kissed her again, smiling down at her through his kisses. “Get the point?

“This will be our special place,” he said as they stood together in front of the mailbox.

“Always?” she asked.

“Always,” he said.

Summer 1985

Dear Kindred Spirit,

I have no clue who you are, and yet that doesn’t stop me from writing to you anyway. I hope one day I will discover your identity. I wonder if you are nearby even as I put pen to paper. It’s a little weird to think that I could have passed you on the street this summer and not know you would be reading my

deepest thoughts and feelings. Campbell won’t even read this, though I would let him if he asked me.

As I write, Campbell is down at the water’s edge, throwing shells. He is really good at making the shells skip across the water—I guess that’s proof that this place is his home.

Let me ask you, Kindred Spirit: Do you think it’s silly for me to assume that I have found my soul mate at the age of fifteen? My mom would laugh. She would tell me that the likelihood of anyone finding a soul mate—ever—is zero. She would tell me that I need to not go around giving my heart away like a hopeless romantic. She laughs when I read romance novels or see sappy movies that make me cry. She says that I will learn the truth about love someday.

But, honestly, I feel like I did learn the truth about love this summer. It’s like what they say: It can happen when you least expect it, and it can knock you flat on your back with its power. I didn’t come here expecting to fall in love. The truth is I didn’t want to come here at all. I came here feeling pushed aside and unwanted. I can still remember when my mom said that she had arranged for my aunt and uncle to bring me here, smiling at me like she was doing me some kind of favor when we both knew she just wanted me out of the picture so she could live her life without me cramping her style.

I tried to tell her that I didn’t want to come—who would want to spend their summer with bratty cousins? I was so mad, I didn’t speak to my mom for days. I begged, plotted, and even got my best friend Holly’s parents to say I could stay with them instead. But in the end, as always, my mother ruled, and I got packed off for a summer at the beach. On the car ride down, I sat squished in the backseat beside Bobby and Stephanie. Bobby elbowed me and stuck his tongue out at me the whole way to the beach. When his parents weren’t looking, of course. I stared out the window and pretended to be anywhere but in that car.

But now, I can’t believe how wonderful this summer has turned out. I made some new friends. I read a lot of books and even got to where I could tolerate my little cousins. They became like the younger siblings I never had. Most of all, I met Campbell.

I know what Holly will say. She will say that it was God’s plan. I am working on believing that there is a God and that he has a plan for my life like Holly says. But most of the time it feels like God is not aware I exist. If he was aware of me, you’d think he’d have given me a mom who actually cared about me.

Ugh—I can’t believe I have to leave tomorrow. Now that I have found Campbell, I don’t know what I will do without him. We have promised to write a lot of letters. And we have promised not to date other people.

A word about him asking me not to date other people: This was totally funny to me. Two nights ago we were walking on the beach and he stopped me, pulling me to him and looking at me really seriously. “Please,” he said, “I would really like it if you wouldn’t see other people. Is that crazy for me to ask that of you when we are going to be so far apart?”

I was like, “Are you kidding? No one asks me out. No one at my school even looks at me twice!” At school I am known for being quiet and studious—a brain, not a girl to call for a good time. Holly says that men will discover my beauty later in life. But until this summer I didn’t believe her. I couldn’t admit that no one notices me at school because, obviously, he believes I am sought after. And I knew enough to let him believe it. So I very coyly answered back, “Only if you promise me the same thing.”

And he smiled in that lazy way of his and said, “How could I even look at another girl when I’ve got the best one in the world?”

And so now you see why I just can’t bear the thought of leaving him. But the clock is ticking. When I get home, I swear I will cry myself to sleep every night and write letters to Campbell every day. The only thing I have to look forward to is hanging out with Holly again. Thank goodness for Holly, the one constant in my life. In math class we learned that a constant is something that has one value all the time and it never changes.

That’s what Holly is for me: my best friend, no matter what.

I wonder if Campbell will be a constant in my life. I guess it’s too soon to tell, but I do hope so. I’m already counting down the days until I can come back and be with Campbell. Because this summer—I don’t care how lame it sounds—I found my purpose. And that purpose is loving Campbell with all my

heart. Always.

Until next summer,


©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. The Mailbox by Marybeth Whalen. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

My Review

Missing Max by Karen Young: Blog Tour

Missing Max: A Novel
About the Book:
When baby Max is kidnapped during Mardi Gras, Jane and Kyle Madison’s life falls apart. What their daughter, Melanie, does next is unthinkable.

Max vanished into thin air while in the care of his teenage sister, Melanie. Six months later, the family is a shadow of its former self: Melanie blames herself and is acting out and rebellious; Jane is obsessed with finding Max; and Kyle, a lawyer, struggles to cope with his own grief—and a persistent suspicion that one of his cases is connected to Max’s disappearance.

With her family in turmoil and her marriage on the rocks, Jane thinks things can’t get any worse. Then when an affair and an unexpected pregnancy threaten to tear the Madisons’ lives apart, an anonymous caller leads to a break in the case. Can a second kidnapping bring their family back together?

My Comments:  Missing Max: A Novel was a fun easy read with a little suspense.  However, I think reading it requires a heavy suspension of disbelief.  In other words, I found the basic plot highly unlikely to occur.  I always enjoy reading novels set in and around my home in New Orleans, but Missing Max: A Novel could have used a pre-publishing read-through by someone from New Orleans.  The precipitating event for the whole book was a kidnapping that took place on Mardi Gras Day.  The dad, an attorney, was at his office on Poydras Street while his wife and kids were in the French Quarter watching a parade lumber down Bourbon Street.  If dad was an attorney who had an office on Poydras Street, he likely had a reserved parking space in the building, and that's where the family car was parked.  After going upstairs to use the facilities (only building tenants with potty passes allowed in) the whole family would have walked to St. Charles to see the parade.  No one in Dad's office would have been working on Mardi Gras; if Dad really needed to work, he would have stayed home.  One reason they would have caught the parade on St. Charles is because Mardi Gras parades aren't allowed in the French Quarter, except for a couple of very small parades well before Fat Tuesday.  Anyone with any sense at all knows that you don't take kids or teens to the French Quarter on Mardi Gras--that's adult territory.  Families belong on St. Charles and indecent exposure there will get you arrested, not beads.  The kidnapped baby's stroller was found at the Riverwalk--which is a mall that is locked up tight on Mardi Gras.

Missing Max: A Novel is the story of what happens to the parents and sister of a baby who is kidnapped.  As often happens in such situations, each is dealing with his or her own grief, and each is also dealing with guilt--Dad was at the office rather than with the teen, so Mom had to take her to the parade; Mom was getting snacks when the kidnapping occurred--she had left the baby with the teen and her (Mom's) best friend, who responded to an emergency.  The teen was flirting with some boys on the float and when she turned her head back, the stroller was missing.  As also happens in such situations, the family members pull away from each other in their grief.  It is Christian fiction though only mildly so.  At the beginning of the book, Jane, the mom, just doesn't have time for religion or church.  Her friend encourages her to go to church but she'd rather relax on Sunday morning.  When baby Max is lost, she is angry at God; then towards the end she realizes that God is there for her, and she decides to start going to church--but like much of the book, it just doesn't ring true, or maybe it is more accurate to say that it seemed more like she was accepting a way to spend time with a friend than like she had really acquired faith--kind of like she finally agreed to go with her friend to get her nails done on Sat. morning.  The religion in the book wasn't preachy, but it really didn't seem to have anything to do with the story.  There is a real pro-life moment .

As I said before, it is a fun read, I really figured out pretty quickly that it would have a happy ending; the tone just wasn't dark enough for any other conclusion.  In a lot of ways I could identify with Jane's "keep busy so you don't have to deal with the pain" way of handling things.  I found the teen daughter's solution far-fetched--or at least the reasoning behind it was far-fetched.  Still, the plot moved and kept me engaged and besides a few eyerolls when the author talked about New Orleans, I did enjoy the read.

Grade:  B-

Thanks to Rebeca at Glass Roads for the complimentary review copy of this book.

Monday, June 28, 2010

To Spend or Not to Spend, That is the Question

Whether tis nobler to give one's excess money to charity to take care of the poor, or to spend it on things you enjoy and which provide employment (and paychecks) to others, so they do not become the poor who need your charity.  I apologize to Shakespeare for the take-off on his words, but I'm serious about the question.  I've read several things lately,and unfortunately didn't keep links, which seem to suggest that one reason people, especially people in the third world, are poor is because we middle and upper income Americans consume more than our share.  It was suggested that if we really wanted to put our Christian beliefs into practice, we'd simplify, get rid of the excess and give more away to those who need it.

The reality is that most Americans do have far more than what we need.  One of the fastest growing businesses is storage facilities--and that is during a time when experts say we have the biggest houses and smallest families in history.  Yes, we have a lot of stuff, and besides that, we do a lot of things.  We go out to eat, we travel, we entertain ourselves, we educate ourselves and yes, most of us even give to charity (and that's besides paying taxes).  However, I have to ask "Is that a bad thing or a good thing?"  My family will go on vacation in a few weeks--an utterly frivolous endeavor.  We will burn up gas--and people working in the oilfield and refineries get a paycheck as a result.  We'll stay in a hotel, providing profits for owners and paychecks for maids, clerks, office personnel and more.  We'll visit attractions, providing jobs for yet more people.  We'll eat in restaurants and buy junk--yup, more jobs.  Then the people we helped pay can go out and buy yet more stuff,or save for future or give to the poor, or any combination thereof.

I'm not suggesting that we never give to charity, or that we spend beyond our means just to help others, but if everyone gave away their excess rather than spending it or saving it to spend in the future, then, in my opinion, we'd just have that many more people needing charity.  What do you think?

Mailbox Mondays

Welcome to my little corner of the web.  This week the mailman brought me:
Missing Max: A NovelMissing Max: A Novel  I'll be reviewing this later this week, but it is a Christian novel about a family whose youngest child is stolen from them during a Mardi Gras parade, and how the guilt each member feels causes strife in the family.

Sarah's Garden (A Patch of Heaven Novel) Sarah's Garden (A Patch of Heaven Novel) is a pretty basic but enjoyable Amish novel.  My review is here.

Other posts this week:
Way Back in the Country GardenWay Back in the Country Garden is the subject of a First Wildcard Tour
Her Mother's Hope (Marta's Legacy)Her Mother's Hope (Marta's Legacy) was a wonderful read.  My review.

Also, I'm try a new feature, a weekly question for book bloggers.  Check out this week's question.

To see what other book bloggers got this week, go to The Printed Page.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

First Wildcard: Way Back in the Country Garden

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Hannibal Books (May 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Jennifer Nelson, PR Specialist, Hannibal Books for sending me a review copy.***


Author Kay Wheeler Moore has written and spoken widely on the subject of relationships and family life. She is the author of Way Back in the Country; When the Heart Soars Free, a book of Christian fiction; and Gathering the Missing Pieces in an Adopted Life, based on her Houston Chronicle newspaper series that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She has also been a newspaper city editor and a reporter for United Press International.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.95
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Hannibal Books (May 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1934749710
ISBN-13: 978-1934749715


Chapter 1: “We Were Rich”

The screen door to the farmhouse creaked open and then quickly slapped shut.

Without glancing up from her ironing board Grandma Harris knew the next sound would be that of feet pit-patting from the front porch into the living room and halting abruptly at her dining table.

Those feet, Grandma knew, could belong to any of several of her grandchildren, whose stopovers at her house were part of their regular home-from-school itinerary.

“Oh, yum, she’s got a fresh bowl full,” Grandma heard a high-pitched squeak emerge. That would be Mable, the youngest of Grandma’s daughter, Mattie, who lived across the pasture with her family.

“I was here first, Mable,” a slightly older voice cajoled. Frances, Grandma’s namesake, got irritated easily with her smaller sibling. “Don’t hog the crackers so I can have the first dip.”

“We’ve all gotta be quick before the others get here,” the oldest one, Bonnie, warned her younger two sisters. They glanced over their shoulders to see whether any of their cousins were hungrily making their way onto Grandma’s porch.

“Girls, I got plenty of tomato preserves fer ever’one—for you and yer cousins,” Grandma gently chided. She stepped from the kitchen to hug her granddaughters, who competed for the first taste of the thick, sweet treat that awaited them as an afternoon snack. “Take turns, now, so I won’t have t’ tell yer mama ya didn’t share politely.”

Grandma Harris had put out the new batch of tomato preserves earlier that day after Grandpa fetched several jars from the storm cellar which had housed them since the summer’s canning. Grandma’s long, hot days of putting up delightful red tomatoes from their garden had yielded a treasure trove of preserves Grandma could share throughout the fall and winter.

In mid-afternoon Grandma had opened the first jar and ladled its contents into a wide-rimmed, cutglass compote that stood on a gleaming, glass-stemmed pedestal in the center of her dining table. The cutglass glistened like diamonds as it reflected the sun’s light filtering through the room. Into a separate dish Grandma had set out some saltine crackers. On this particular afternoon her red-haired granddaughters—Bonnie, Frances, and Mable Miller—were the first snack-seekers.

No doubt they’d soon be followed by some of the youngsters of her other sons and daughters whose homes were also nearby.

Ultimately Grandma Harris would go on to begat 52 grandchildren in all, but she never ran out of treats for them or resourceful ways to prepare the many vegetables that she and Grandpa Harris grew in their everlastingly prolific garden. Every Sunday Grandma prepared an enormous, after-church dinner for all of her 11 children and their families who could attend.

Because their farmhouse was closest to Grandma’s, the “Three Red-Haired Miller Girls”, as many in their community of Brushy Mound knew them, hardly ever missed a Sunday—or an after-school afternoon—at Grandma’s house, where her good cooking always abounded.

* * * * * * * * * *

A century later the Harris farmhouse built on the rich, black soil of Delta County, TX, has long ago crumbled down. Grandma’s abundant garden has been plowed under with only a few derelict weeds to mark the spot where those sweet-ascandy tomatoes grew so bountifully. For more than 65 years grass has grown unbidden around the tombstone marked “Frances E. Harris”—the Miller girls’ beloved “Grandma”.

But down all the decades, the memory of Grandma’s delectable tomato preserves served in the sparkling, pedestaled compote would remain fresh in the mind of her namesake—little Frances, who was still recounting the tomato preserves story well into her 103rd year on this earth.

“We were rich,” Frances recalled to us nieces and nephews, who discreetly pumped her for just one more of her “olden-days” country tales before night would fall on her memory forever. This font of family lore was the last surviving member of that generation of our kin. At 102 years and 1 month of age Frances could still describe picking melons the size of basketballs, okra rows that were city blocks-long, and cornstalks that seemed to stand tall as skyscrapers.

Although farm families such as hers usually lacked financial means, the garden insured that no one would go hungry. Just before supper each night Mama faithfully sent Frances and her sisters out to see what was ready to be plucked from the vine and cooked up for that night’s meal.

“We had no idea we were poor,” Frances mused from her wheelchair, “because we always had food from the garden.”

* * * * * * * *

At the time Frances related her last tomato preserves story before her passing in May 2009, people everywhere were turning to backyard patches of earth again for the same reason the Miller girls and their mama and grandma did in the early part of the last century.

Economic woes in the United States and around the world have caused family incomes to plummet. Home-gardening has become a passionate new interest for people who have never planted a seed or worked a hoe. Even the wife of the U.S. President at the time, as an example for others, grew vegetables in her own White House garden. Heads of households can gaze on small stretches of garden dirt and comfort themselves in the same way Frances’ family did. After all, the Great Depression, which clouded the Miller Girls’ youth in rural northeast Texas, did not sting as much to those who could till the soil and cultivate its yield. With food from the garden, they could always feed their families and feel “rich”, no matter how lean the times or how thin the pocketbook.

My earlier cookbook, Way Back in the Country, emphasized that food, the recipes for how to prepare it, and the stories of people who cooked them are all interwoven into the fabric of family life. Way Back in the Country encouraged families to preserve not just their legendary recipes but the lore of the loved ones—such as the indomitable Grandma Harris—who made them popular. Through tales of the Red-Haired Miller Girls—my mother, Mable, and her two sisters, Frances and Bonnie—and six generations of their farm kin and the recipes that have been regulars at family gatherings for decades, Way Back in the Country inspired others to get their tape-recorders out and investigate why “Great-Aunt Gertie” always brought lemon pound cake whenever their extended families dined.

With gardening surging in popularity once more, the time seems right to revisit the Miller-Harris legends and recipe chests—this time to celebrate the role that food from one’s own soil has always played in American homes and how, in the Tight Times of this Great Recession, it makes us feel “rich” with hope and comfort afresh. Way Back in the Country Garden again will intertwine six generations of my family’s anecdotes with cooking instructions that will probably remind you of some of your own family favorites.

So prepare to laugh, cry, and traipse down memory lane once again with the Red-Haired Miller Girls and their progeny—through yarns my family told—yarns that I didn’t always witness firsthand but can try to recreate as I can envision them happening in my mind’s eye. May you soon be preserving some country gardening tales of your own and savoring the memories and tastes of yesterday.

Copyright © 2010

All rights reserved under International Copyright Law. Contents may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form without the express written consent of the publisher.
My Review

Her Mother's Hope: My Review

Her Mother's Hope (Marta's Legacy)Her Mother's Hope (Marta's Legacy) is the story of mothers and daughters, three generations of women in the same family.  Marta is the main character.  She was born in Switzerland in the late 1800's.  Her father was a tailor, her mother a seamstress.  She was a bright child who loved school but her father made her drop out and go to work even before she finished elementary school.  Her father was also both verbally and physically abusive.  She had a sister who was the apple of her father's eye and her mother's pet.  However, her sister, like her mother, had little fight in her.  Both were pleasers.  Marta is sent off to housekeeping school and works her way through a series of jobs in hotels, boarding houses and mansions until finally going to Canada to pursue her dreams.  She meets and marries Niclas and has to give up all she has worked for to follow him first to western Canada and then to California.  Along the way they have four children, including the second major character in the book, Hildamara.  Like her grandmother and aunt, Hildamara is a pleaser, a servant.  Marta keeps pushing her, demanding things of her, trying to get her to stand up for herself, to demand what she wants or needs, but Hildamara doesn't; she just becomes more convinced that her mother doesn't love her.

The book takes us from Switzerland to Paris to England to Canada and finally to California.  We see Marta growing into a successful business woman, and finally realizing that she is worthy of being loved.  We see her daughter suffer the same feelings of unworthiness due to her inability (she believes) to gain her mother's love.  Finally we see Marta realizing that while Hildamara's strength isn't the same type as hers, she does indeed have the strength she so desired her daughter to have.

Her Mother's Hope is Christian fiction.  We often hear how the family attended church.  At the beginning of the book Marta is in church shortly after a beating by her father.  The pastor speaks about the need to continue to work at staying on the right path and Marta wonders if God is like her father--impossible to please.  One thing that attracts Hildamara's eventual husband to her is her prayerfulness.  Still, this is a powerful book about the relationships between parents and children and to dismiss it because you don't read Christian fiction would be a mistake.

Grade:  A
Source:  Library

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sarah's Garden by Kelly Long: My Review

Sarah's Garden (A Patch of Heaven Novel)What happens when the Amish girl next door falls in love with the new vet in the neighborhood?  The answer is found in Sarah's Garden (A Patch of Heaven Novel).  Set in Pine Creek, Pennsylvania, Sarah's Garden (A Patch of Heaven Novel) is the story of Sarah, the youngest child in the King family, and of Grant, a veterinarian  who moves into the farm next door.  Sarah's love has always been her garden--it is where she finds God and it is her creative outlet.  When Grant moves in next door he asks for help putting in a garden and their relationship begins to grow, even though both know that for her to marry him would mean she'd have to leave the only world she'd ever known.  Throw in the childhood best friend who wants to be her husband and the former neighbor who blames her family for his family's problems and you get a couple of unexpected twists before the final somewhat predictable conclusion.

Like much Amish fiction this book is sweet and predictable.  It is filled with details about buggies and quilting. The gardening information sets this book apart from the crowd; Sarah talks about vegetables I never knew existed.

If you like Amish fiction, you'll like this one.  If you are looking for an original story line or an Amish book that is somehow different from the rest of crowd, this isn't it.  Still, it was a quick enjoyable pool read.

I'd like to thank the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze program for sending me a complimentary review copy of this book in return for a review.  I was not obligated to write a positive review.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Do You Like Book Giveaways?

If you like to enter book giveaways, or if you have a giveaway you'd like to publicize, here is a link-up.

More on Morally Responsible Investing

Investing with a Sense of Moral Responsibility
Taken from an article by George Schwartz, CFA, author of Good Returns

It would be difficult to determine exactly how many people who consider themselves pro-life also invest in the stock market.  But my experience as a financial counselor and mutual fund manager indicates that many investors do worry that the corporations whose stocks they hold might be contributing to evils they oppose.
This is a realistic concern.  Far more companies than might be imagined participate directly in abortion, embryo-destructive research, distribution of pornography, and other practices that diverge from the traditional Christian moral understanding and violate specific Church teachings.  Still more subsidize, or in other ways promote, such challenges to life, families, and human well being.
However, it is possible for investors of conscience to avoid tainting their portfolios with ethically questionable holdings, and there is a strong moral case for the effort.  It has to do with exactly what investing in the stock market involves.
A September 2008 article in Forbes Magazine reported that there were 173 ethically themed mutual funds, representing $172 billion in assets.  Many of those have a religious orientation, some with actual denominational affiliations.  A small number specifically include pro-life concerns among their investment criteria.  Of those, I manage the largest group, the Ave Maria Mutual Funds, a family of five pro-life investment funds based on a concept which I call “Morally Responsible Investing.”
While Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) addresses a broad spectrum of economic, political and environmental issues, Morally Responsible Investing (MRI) focuses specifically on making investment decisions that embrace two key areas of concern.  Overshadowing every other consideration is the sanctity of life — in other words, abortion. 
The other leg upon which Morally Responsible Investing stands is the sanctity of marriage, and the most corrosive influence in husband-wife relationships subsidized by investment dollars is pornography. 
There are some who argue that it’s impossible to avoid morally offensive investments, and that even if problematic stocks are identified, eliminating them from your portfolio will inevitably limit investment options and thus guarantee poor returns.  Neither of these propositions is true.
Value and Diversification
The documented history of the Ave Maria Mutual Funds, for example, demonstrates that one need not sacrifice integrity for the sake of good returns.  Indeed, we have achieved outstanding investment performance for our 25,000-plus shareholders.  Most notable are our two 5-star-rated funds — the Ave Maria Rising Dividend Fund (AVEDX) and the Ave Maria Growth Fund (AVEGX) — each of which is in the top ten percent of its category, as determined by the mutual fund rating service, Morningstar.
The key to such performance is thorough, careful, professional research that not only screens out companies with morally offensive policies and practices, but that identifies those that have good business characteristics and growth potential according to the well established principles of “Value Investing.”  Practiced by such financial wizards as Warren Buffett, Value Investing consists of carefully analyzing all the things of worth in a company, adding them up, subtracting the liabilities, and comparing the result to the price-per-share at which the company is trading in the marketplace.  If the company’s intrinsic business value is significantly greater than the market price of its shares, then that company is a logical investment candidate.
Another important factor is diversification of investments, which is generally recognized as an essential means of mitigating risk and maximizing returns over the long term.  By allocating your investments over different asset classes and styles, you reduce risk and increase your probability of gain over a complete market cycle.  Diversification is essential, whether you invest in mutual funds or individual stocks and bonds.
A Moral Imperative
Morally Responsible Investing, as I have practiced it, is more than a means of avoiding conflicts of conscience while seeking financial security.  I believe it can make a positive contribution to the advance of the pro-life cause.  While abortion was a marginal issue in the last election, polls tell us that there was a significant percentage of voters who saw it as a key concern, specifically those who attend church regularly, are active in their faith communities, and hold traditional moral views.
Such people can gain influence by being practical investors.  We can identify companies that have both good investment merits and policies that are consistent with MRI principles, and then support them with our investment capital.  In this way we can become an important shareholder bloc whose contentment corporate managers will recognize is in their best interest to ensure.   Essentially, we will combine the desire for economic security with moral volition to achieve a Christian end.
If you sense that the arguments I put before you are true, then I urge you, as a matter of conscience, to consider what they imply for your own investing.

George P. Schwartz is a Chartered Financial Analyst and Registered Investment Advisor with special expertise in mutual funds.  He is president of the Michigan-based Schwartz Investment Counsel, Inc., a company he founded in 1980.  Schwartz’s intimate knowledge of financial markets and deep personal commitment to the Catholic Faith led to his co-founding the Ave Maria Mutual Funds, along with Catholic entrepreneur and philanthropist, Tom Monaghan, and former Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bowie Kuhn.

Good Returns: Making Money by Morally Responsible Investing
by George P. Schwartz, CFA
Geodi Publishing/May 2010
ISBN: 978-0-9844042-0-9/191 pages/hardcover/$25.00

Question for Book Bloggers

What do you do with a review book you don't like?  Do you have a certain number of pages you give a book, and then give up?  Do you slog through to the end, regardless of whether you are enjoying it or not?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Giveaway: The Castaways

The Castaways: A Novel
About the Book:
Greg and Tess MacAvoy are one of four prominent Nantucket couples who count each other as best friends. As pillars of their close-knit community, the MacAvoys, Kapenashes, Drakes, and Wheelers are important to their friends and neighbors, and especially to each other. But just before the beginning of another idyllic summer, Greg and Tess are killed when their boat capsizes during an anniversary sail. As the warm weather approaches and the island mourns their loss, nothing can prepare the MacAvoy's closest friends for what will be revealed.

Once again, Hilderbrand masterfully weaves an intense tale of love and loyalty set against the backdrop of endless summer island life.

Thanks to the nice folks at Hachette Books, I have three copies of The Castaways
to give away.  Here is how to enter:
1.  Leave a comment with your name, your email address and the name of one book featured on Hachette's website.  The book must be one no other published commenter has named (since I moderate comments, if two unpublished comments name the same book, I'll let that go, but once the comment has been published, no one else can name that book.
2.  Leave a comment saying that you follow me--and if you aren't now, start.  I will check.
3.  Spread the word about this giveaway--blog, tweet, facebook, message board, or email ten or more friends with a bcc to me at ruthjoec at gmail dot com.  Leave a comment for each thing you do; each action is worth an entry.
4.  Find another Hachette giveaway for some book besides this one (hint: you can find some on their website). Leave a comment here with the name of the book and a link to the contest.

US and Canada only; no PO Boxes.  Contest ends July 4.  

My Review: Shoulder Bags and Shootings

Shoulder Bags and Shootings (Haley Randolph Mysteries)

About the Book: Fashionista and amateur sleuth Haley Randolph is in hot pursuit of the season's newest must- have handbag. But soon she's also in hot pursuit of a killer -- when she discovers the corpse of none other than her designer purse party rival . . .

Life is beyond fabulous at the moment for Haley Randolph. She just spent two amazing weeks in Europe with her boyfriend Ty Cameron, owner of Holt's Department Store where Haley works. And now Ty's grandmother, Ada, is letting Haley drive her way-cool Mercedes. Things would be perfect if she could just get her hands on her latest fashion obsession: the new Sinful handbag.

Every store in town is out of stock, and Haley would rather die than buy a knockoff. But when she finds the body of her nemesis, Tiffany Markham, in the trunk of Ada's Mercedes, she's not so sure she wants to trade places after all . . .

Topping the list of suspects, Haley doesn't deny seeing red when Tiffany and her business partner not only stole her purse party idea, but also made more money. But Haley wasn't jealous enough to commit murder. Now she'll have to solve this mystery quickly -- and find that Sinful bag -- before she becomes a killer's next fashion fatality . . .

My Comments:  You know, sometimes I think you (or at least I) can just be too old to enjoy a book.  The heroine of this book is a 20 something young woman who tells the story in the first person.  Haley is basically marking time  until she decides what she wants to be when she grows up--but what it really seems is that she doesn't want to grow up.  She hates college and hates her job and yet her solution is to consider a college where you can basically buy a diploma. She treats life like a mediocre student treats high school--doing the minimum to get by and ignoring everyone who is telling her a little work will make a big difference.   The story itself is kind of funny, fast-paced--almost breathless and Haley does have a part in catching the bad guy.  Like I said, I'm just a little too old to enjoy the story--or maybe the problem is that Haley reminded me of a couple of young women hired by my firm and given to me to train, who'd act like I was the teacher who gave them an assignment that didn't interest them, so they did the minimum (and not very well).

If it is important to you, the book has no sex scenes but Haley talks about sleeping with her boyfriend--but no details are given except about his pillow talk.

I'd like to thank FSB Media for providing a complimentary review copy.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Happy Father's Day to all dads out there.  I'm blessed that my dad is still with us, and still in pretty good health.  Hopefully he'll be around long enough for the younger grandkids (born while he was in his seventies) to remember him.

I wrote some book reviews this week but nothing related to Catholicism.  This cookbook review features two of my three kids, so I'll brag on it.    Check out some of my other reviews while you are here.

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival is a chance for Catholic bloggers to share their best posts with each other.  To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled "Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival".  In it, highlight one or more of your posts from the week--whether they deal with Catholicism, or with cute Catholic kids.  Add a link back here and publish.  Then come back here and add a link to Mr. Linky.  Then go visit everybody else, and leave comments so they'll know you've been there.

If you want a weekly reminder to post, join our yahoogroup.

Bank on Yourself: Book Review

Bank on Yourself: The Life-Changing Secret to Growing and Protecting Your Financial FutureGenerally speaking, books offered to book bloggers for review are new books seeking an audience, not bestsellers.  However, FSB Media was offering review copies of Bank on Yourself: The Life-Changing Secret to Growing and Protecting Your Financial Future which was a best-seller.  When I first saw it, I figured it was another version of "spend less than you make" because, just as we cannot lose weight by eating more calories than we burn, so we cannot make financial gains spending more than we make.  When Holly reviewed it, she said it wasn't that type of book at all, and that she ran the program by a financial advisor who said it could work.   I figured I'd give it a shot--we haven't gotten rich lately so I'm willing to consider new ideas.

About the book (from Bank on Yourself website): 

This ground-breaking book reveals the secrets to taking back control of your financial future that Wall Street, banks, and credit card companies don’t want you to know.
You’ll discover how to…
  • Have a rock-solid financial plan and a predictable retirement income that can last as long as you do (chapters 4, 6, and 7)
  • Turn your back on the stomach-churning twists and turns of the stock and real estate markets (chapters 3, 7, and 9)
  • Not have to depend on luck, skill, or guesswork to reach your financial goals – Bank On Yourself is something almost anyone with a little patience and discipline can do (chapters 5, 6, and 7)
  • Get back every penny you pay for your cars, vacations, home repairs, business equipment, acollege education, and other major purchases, so you can enjoy more of life’s luxuries today without robbing your nest-egg! (The average family could increase their lifetime wealth by $500,000 to $1,000,000 or more using this method, without the risk or volatility of stocks and real estate) (chapters 2, 3, and 9)
  • Stop choosing between enjoying life’s luxuries today and saving for tomorrow—it’s possible to enjoy the things you want, without robbing your nest egg (chapters 2 and 9)
More than 100,000 Americans of all ages, incomes, and backgrounds are already doing it.You’ll meet some of them in this book and hear their stories of how Bank On Yourself has helped them reach a wide variety of short-term and long-term personal and financial goals and dreams. You’ll find success stories from people in all walks of life. In addition, many trusted financial experts have endorsed Bank on Yourself: The Life-Changing Secret to Growing and Protecting Your Financial Future.

My Comments:  
Most financial planning books tell you to purchase term life insurance to cover your life insurance needs, and invest money in the stock market to cover your investing needs.  The basic principal of this book, which reads like an infomerical, is to buy dividend-producing whole life insurance with paid up riders as an investment and as insurance, and then to borrow against the cash value of the policy to pay for big-ticket items, rather than financing them through a bank.  The author admits that the start-up costs for this plan take time to recoup, but claims that over time you are able to use your money over and over without paying interest to banks.  

Math never was my best subject but something about it just didn't make sense to me.  In one example given, a  man was going to pay $1000/ month for a policy.  After 3 years (and $36,000 in premiums if my math is right), when his current car is paid for, he can borrow $30,000 from the plan to pay for his next car.  Then, instead of paying the bank every month, he'll pay the insurance company--with interest.  The power of this system over saving to buy the car is that you'd have to pay taxes on the interest you earned, and you still get whatever dividends the insurance company pays on that $30,000.  If you die with an outstanding loan balance, it is deducted from the policy value.

My gut feeling is that if the guy in the story could come up with enough money to buy $1000/month worth of insurance, he should have been able to save that money and not be buying the car on time to start with.  The advisor suggested stopping 401K contributions to fund this plan--and encouraged the couple to borrow liberally against these policies.  Here is a blogger who seems to put into words what I'm feeling.  

Anyway, here is the author's website, judge for yourself.

Review: Way Back in the Country Garden

Way Back in the Country GardenGet a bunch of women from the same family together, and swapping recipes and tasting food is likely to be part of the entertainment, along with all the "remember when" stories.  Way Back in the Country Garden is a book that brings you into the author's family gatherings and kitchen.  We learn about how her family lived in close proximity to each other, grew big gardens and cooked good food.  The first part of the book is mostly family stories and it is separated from the second half, which is mostly recipes, by a scrapbook of family photos.  I'd like to share one recipe with you:

Carrot Pie

1 pound carrots, peeled, sliced, and boiled or steamed until tender
1/2 cup melted butter
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

Drain carrots after you cook them.  Mash thoroughly or blend in blender.  Add melted butter.  Combine with remaining ingredients.  Pour into unbaked pie shell, or to make crustless pie, pour into 9 by 9 pan.  Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes.  Makes six servings.

All in all, the recipes are the real people cook this type and the family stories sound, well, like family stories.  I felt a little like I did when I first met my husband's family.  I could sense the love and history behind the stories but all the names confused me and I had a hard time keeping track of who went with whom.

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