Novel Buffet

Am I sharing recipes for weird, unusual foods? No, preparing a buffet of appetizers from novelists who write marvelous stories. As you peruse the buffet, I hope you discover intriguing new stories and authors. It’s a joy to share a taste of them with you. [Many of these have appeared on my blog in years past. You will find a link (colored words near end of each book blurb) to the longer review if you want more than a taste. Bon appétit.]

Books are like a magic carpet ~ transporting us to realms far from our everyday.  Distant countries. Distant eras. Journeys of heroism, beauty, joy, love. Such a rich gift for pennies.  I love a tale that sweeps me away, dives deep, broadens my perspective, delights my artist heart. Here are some of the best.

KRISTY CAMBRON

Hope & Beauty ~ THE BUTTERFLY AND THE VIOLIN

A powerful story, well told … beautifully told. ‘Tis a gifted writer who can not only open a window for a reader to peer into a different world, but transport the reader there. Kristy Cambron transported me to another world ~ and I don’t feel as if I’ve quite returned yet.

On finishing the story, I closed the cover and felt strangely untethered from my hot summer home. Also bereft at leaving behind this place Cambron had so thoroughly delivered me to. Haven’t analyzed the why; not certain I want to. But I do know this tale displays our urge to create beauty, and the power of beauty to infuse hope. That message resonated with me. I suspect it will with you.

Fear. Faith. Family. A SPARROW IN TEREZIN

sparrow-in-terezin-cambronFor some people hundreds of things spark hope and joy. But for Europeans living during the 1940s, choices, safety, and reasons for optimism were shrinking.

In A Sparrow in Terezin Kristy Cambron works her alchemy of words and brings her story world to life in my living room—even more so in my mind and heart. …

Closing the cover of a Cambron book is never a complete pleasure because many months will pass before another of her tales is available.

Stunning ~ THE RINGMASTER’S WIFE

With a thorough grasp of historical research (like another favorite author, Laura Frantz), Cambron’s stories ~ the fictional saga of Colin and Rosamund and the historical lives of John and Mable Ringling ~ are perfectly interlaced. The novel is such a seamless blend, it’s impossible to dissect the two threads while reading. So superbly woven that if Cambron didn’t tell me, I’d never suspect half the novel is not based on actual people.

Reading The Ringmaster’s Wife with Cambron’s signature powerful story, lively settings, fascinating characters, and her lovely way with words is like savoring fine chocolate.

LAURA FRANTZ

A Journey through A MOONBOW NIGHT

As a reader I love a good story. One that invites turning pages quickly, chasing plot turns with characters that have captured my interest. I want be so immersed in a book that closing the cover and returning to my time and place is a shock. Laura Frantz writes stories that come alive. A venture she succeeds in every time. For a reader, that is enough to know opening A Moonbow Night will bring satisfaction.

moonbow night coverFrantz captures the unsettledness and danger of 1777, a year of much violence and bloodshed in Kentucky known as “the bloody sevens.” Indian attacks grew more common. Constant vigilance and heightened senses were required. The story shows the toll vigilance takes, and the price of being careless. And though the story is set in a turbulent era and covers many raw days, do not fear it’s a dark and overwhelming story. That all is relieved when Frantz peppers the story with beautiful observations, joyous experiences, noble deeds, glimmers of hope, as well as snatches of humor.

Frantz creates living, breathing characters. Though this is her fourth novel set in l770-1790 Kentucky, her characters are always fresh, distinct, and seem to emerge perfectly from the era. Not a retread among them.

…  I think the magic of Frantz’s writing (which in my experience is shared by only a few) is that her stories are not so much read as lived.

There can be only one ~ THE MISTRESS OF TALL ACRE

Who do you trust when the whole world has turned upside down? When you live in a new country with new loyalties, expectations, resources? When family and friends are all dead or gone? When one wrong word or glance can jeopardize your fragile hold on life?

Whether you’re a twenty-something spinster or a five-year-old motherless child ~ that world is a frightening and dangerous place. It is into just such a post-Revolutionary War period that Laura Frantz drops us.

May I introduce:  General Seamus Ogilvy ~ whose “battlefield manners often follow him into the parlor.”

THE BALLANTYNE LEGACY series

Secrets, lies, and mistrust create a dark backdrop against which Frantz’s characters shimmer. And as if a good story well-told wasn’t enough, Frantz drops gem-like epigrams throughout which intrigue you or tickle your funny bone.

Breath-taking ~ LOVE’S RECKONING

Very possibly my favorite hero! (At least 1 of top 2.) Astonishing how real this story became to me.

Sensory Jewel ~ LOVE’S AWAKENING (book 2)

Clash of the titans aptly describes the atmosphere as you open Love’s Awakening. Oh, love is in the title and in the novel ~~ but the story is much more than a love story. It’s drama, adventure, intrigue, mystery, and history-come-alive when Ellie of the powerful, wealthy, and abolition-leaning Ballantyne clan encounters children of the slave-holding, whiskey magnate, Henry Turlock.

More than the sum of well-done craft elements, this is a book I thoroughly enjoyed escaping into. I’d love to see it made into a movie.

Adventure Calls ~ LOVE’S FORTUNE (book 3)

For the rest of his life James Sackett would remember this moment.”

What about this moment is special? And who could resist turning the page after reading such a line?

Whatever makes a good novel for you ~ high-stakes action, compelling characters, a setting that takes you someplace new ~ you’ll find it between the covers of Love’s Fortune. Frantz is skilled at the elements of writing good fiction—vivid characters, rich setting, taut plot lines. And also using the subtlety, red herrings, and misdirection of engrossing mysteries.

But there is more, much more.  Some authors (and Frantz is one) have a way of weaving simple words, sentences, and paragraphs into a glittering jewel that is more than the sum of its parts. She transforms these elements into a tale that Narnia-like captures and carries us to a satisfying journey.  Love’s Fortune is a tale that unfurls at times with the grit and scrape of a coil of hemp rope, at others with the caress and shimmery mystery of a spool of moiré ribbon. A tale that kept me reading until the dawn broke.

[Note:  having read all but one of Laura Frantz’s novels (most more than once), I recommend them without hesitation.]

DAVIS BUNN

THE TURNING  ~   Bunn presents a story which is paradoxically as familiar as age-old fairy tales yet as astonishing as tomorrow’s news.

The power of one person ~ UNLIMITED

Illustrating a person’s unlimited potential when relying on a limitless God demands hopeless circumstances. And Bunn delivers.  The setting—a dusty, Mexican border town—is so clear that reading the book during a  heat wave was sometimes uncomfortably real. The characters are also realistic. Currently breathing in my home, they’ve been invited to stay.

Though I don’t typically enjoy desert settings, this novel grabbed me and carried me along. Unlimited is another in a long line of Bunn’s satisfying reads and I highly recommend it.

MARC ROYCE series

Tested loyalty, courage, and faith, a five-star series ~ LION OF BABYLON (book 1), RARE EARTH (book 2), STRAIT OF HORMUZ (book 3)

With an economy of words and profusion of images, Strait of Hormuz  is a story seemingly ripped from today’s news. American Marc Royce has been sent on a clandestine intelligence operation that takes him to Switzerland, then across Europe into the Middle East, without backup. Or even a gun.

Might just give you chills on a hot summer day ~ BOOK OF DREAMS & HIDDEN IN DREAMS

This 2-book series of Bunn’s is an intriguing tale that seems simultaneously drawn from today’s newspaper headlines and Old Testament prophecy. You’ll follow plot twists, but still won’t see the ending coming.

C. J. MILBRANDT

MeadowsweetIn the vein of Chronicles of Narnia ~ GALLERIES OF STONE series

Statues on the legendary Moonlit Mountain have a life of their own.

MEADOWSWEET – book 1, HARROW – book 2, RAKEFANG – book 3

Milbrandt weaves a marvelously creative, whimsical world where mountains have moods and some people can discern those moods, even hear the mountain. Where mountains have keepers to protect their hearts. And stone statues can be woken. This is a tale brimming with love, loyalty, and delight ~ where every person and thing is valuable.

Chocked full of fun, mystery, and life lessons, the Galleries of Stone series are be labeled YA, but they’re family-friendly stories along the line of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and are equally good for reading by any age, aloud to little ones, or as a family. Milbrandt is a master craftsman whose books overflow with creativity, heroism, love, and joy. I recommend this series to all who want more light and joy in their day.

JULIE KLASSEN

Captivating ~ THE TUTOR’S DAUGHTER

THE TUTOR'S DAUGHTER coverSurely in her Minnesota hometown, Julie Klassen must spend time fishing ~ for in The Tutor’s Daughter she set the hook on page one and steadily reeled me deeper as the story unfurled. [Though, truly I was captured by the cover first.  Isn’t it a delight?]

From the time the Smallwoods enter Cornwall, the story’s twists continually ramp up the mystery ~ it seems everyone there harbors secrets. I savored every bit of description. Klassen uses the setting with great skill not only to draw the reader in but to advance the plot ~ always a nice touch.

High stakes ~ LADY MAYBE

Having read at least a half-dozen of Julie Klassen’s books, I am a fan. Lady Maybe is full of the high-quality writing with interesting characters and the rich historical setting Klassen does so well. The story is gripping from its creative and compelling inciting incident. The powerful consequences and possible losses that could result from each choice the heroine faces kept me eager to continue reading. Klassen is a gifted storyteller.

I think Lady Maybe fell a tad short in one aspect—the romantic plot thread. The content was more sexually-oriented than others by Klassen. Also, the heroine waffled between love interests without clear motivation, leaving me with no particular hero to root for. (I wondered if the marked difference between this novel and other Klassen novels is the result of the new publisher.)

SUSAN MEISSNER

Everything about Meissner’s work is rich ~ A FALL OF MARIGOLDS

Reading Meissner’s captivating story of either Taryn or Clara, women buckled by tragedy and strengthened by love, would be a day well-spent. Meissner, however, weaves their stories together, doubling our enjoyment of the gripping journey. Each woman endures an infamous event and recoils from the pain of living. We accompany them as circumstances force them to discover how to peel off their armor like bandages from a burn and let their tender selves face life again.

PEPPER BASHAM

PENNED IN TIME series

An energetic story ~ THE THORN BEARER (book 1)

Basham braids her story around the taut theme of broken people needing to give and receive forgiveness. She excels in hinting at feelings not shown and things left unsaid, giving readers a dance of communication with exquisitely veiled dialogue that allows much opportunity for misunderstanding. This occurs amidst a fast-flowing stream of situations that shuffle the characters and their futures.

SANDY SNAVELY

 Intriguing views through ELLIE’S WINDOW

An engaging book with a creative smörgåsbord of characters, themes, and perspectives. … It expands the realm of possibilities for our consideration. A gift on every level.

OPERATION FIRST NOVEL CONTEST WINNERS ~

THE CALLING OF ELLA McFARLAND, Linda Brooks Davis     Davis spins a good yearn and draws vivid characters with perfectly chosen details.

SNOW OUT OF SEASON, Christy Brunke     That title intrigues me. “Out of season” always means something is awry. … I appreciate believable characters, evocative settings, intriguing storylines, lovely writing, spot-on symbolism, crackling dialog with a dash of charm and humor.

DOUBLE HEADER, Clarice James    The author draws characters with plenty of quirks and finds fresh ways to describe them. Her writing skill and witty style make the  reader’s journey a delight.

And on a 2nd buffet table ~ Many book review posts were lost in a massive tech glitch on my website. Not wanting to slight some favorite authors and great books, I’m including some notes below from reviews I’ve done on other websites so they may be missing links to the longer versions.

LIZ CURTIS HIGGS

In this 2-volume set, we walk with the Kerr family through the dark and dangerous times of the Jacobite Rising in Scotland, 1745 and find God’s love dazzles like a diamond against a jeweler’s black velvet. I look for a novel to carry me away. This series succeeded magnificently, and I could not recommend it more highly!

HERE BURNS MY CANDLE (book 1)

Here Burns my Candle coverThis story didn’t just unfold. It crept into my mind and heart like the chill creeps under Elisabeth’s wool cape. I walked the bustling High Street. Smelled lavender and hay. Heard the rustling sigh of silk skirts, the clip-clop of horses on cobblestones, and cannons boom from Edinburgh Castle. I felt the chill mist on my face, the icy mornings when coal was scarce, and the cold scorn heaped upon the family as allegiances shifted like sand.

Some reviewers said the story grows slowly. Perhaps the action could have been conveyed in two-thirds the length ~ but ah, the experience could not. I believe the pace allows me to accompany the characters as they encounter challenges that induce gradual change in their perceptions, expectations, and reactions, and that is precisely why the story draws me in so thoroughly.

MINE IS THE NIGHT (book 2)

Elizabeth and Marjory are two women who may have lost their titles but not their nobility of character. As they make their way in this new world, the neighbors and challenges they meet provide no end of excitement.

In typical fashion, Higgs creates characters I love to spend time with, places them in a drama as filled with wrinkles as calico stuffed in my quilt-scraps bag, and plants them in a setting so richly drawn that I feel the dew and the odd sensation of drinking from a wooden cup. I soak up the colors of the evening sky.

Finishing the book, I feel as if I’ve just returned from a memorable trip–and long to return. So I do. I leisurely wend my way through the story in Selkirkshire and visit the dear companions residing there on my second read in as many weeks.

Grab your boots; it’s snowing!  ~ A WREATH OF SNOW

As usual, Liz doesn’t just tell us a story, she draws us into it, deftly weaving this tale so there’s no escaping accompanying the characters on their journey. In snowbound Stirling, Scotland, we feel the need of a scarf and dry shoes, a loved one’s smile, a ray of hope–and a desire to run away.

When Meg Campbell, her family, and Gordon Shaw are snowed into a town that seems to hold nothing but painful reminders, we feel along with them the suffocation of burdens not meant to be borne. And we celebrate when they confront their deepest secrets, shames, and fears, and then experience God’s wonderful way of using everything to further his purposes and to give light to those trapped in emotional prisons.

With a lovely drawing of the Stirling Railway Station, Liz’s notes and book club questions, snippets of poetry, AND a recipe for yummy shortbread, this is a charming story which I highly recommend whether you love Scotland or not–which I thoroughly do.

[Just a note without reviews: I’ve read all of Higgs’ novels and they are all 5-star reads, captivating and thoroughly enjoyable. I don’t believe there’s one that I haven’t read at least twice.]

ANGELA HUNT

LET DARKNESS COME

Angela Hunt’s tagline is “Expect the unexpected.” I do, yet she continues to surprise me. This taut, intriguing mystery is no exception. Hunt’s understated prose draws the reader into Briley’s, Erin’s, and Antonio’s world–then tilts it, inviting news perspectives, allowing new insights. The story unfurls with masterful precision, early clues barely breathed into the story with such subtlety Sherlock Holmes would have difficulty catching them. An exceptional read.  [Another author who writes consistently excellent and intriguing novels. I haven’t read every one, but many; and never hesitate to recommend them.]

NANCY RUE

SULLIVAN CRISP series ~ with Steve Arterburn

I also recommend HEALING STONES (book 1) and HEALING WATERS (book 2) but haven’t written reviews.

HEALING SANDS (book 3) ~ a powerful tapestry woven of drama and mystery, shot through with sparkling threads of humor and poetry. This compelling story grabbed me and held me until the wee hours of the morning with laugh-out-loud and take-my-breath-away moments. Arterburn and Rue’s writing reveals nuanced characters in compelling situations in settings that shimmer in their clarity. You’ll blink sand from your eyes and take new perspectives with you when you close the cover. I will read this book again–and highly recommend it.

SALLY JOHN

Intricately woven, achingly real, story within a story, intriguing, satisfying ~ RANSOMED DREAMS

From the first sentence I was carried away into Sheridan Montgomery’s world as surely as Wendy Darling entered Neverland. And leaving was every bit as difficult. The journey with the characters led to a powerful ending with life-altering shifts in perspective.

Whether you wish an armchair (or beach towel) vacation, or a thought-provoking journey to new insights, Ransomed Dreams satisfies. [Another superb author who doesn’t disappoint. I believe I’ve read every novel she’s written, some more than once. Highly recommend them all.]

JOANNE BISCHOF

THE CADENCE OF GRACE series

Bischof spins tales that draw you in through clearly drawn characters who face obstacles that shake them to the core, leaving them with barely enough strength to take another breath.

BE STILL MY SOUL – book 1, THOUGH MY HEART IS TORN – book 2, MY HOPE IS FOUND – book 3

Gideon O’Riley has two wives—but he doesn’t know it.

Reading that, how can you help but be drawn in? We want to know: How is that possible? And when we discover that, we wonder how you continue moving through life when every person you love and rely on is ripped from you. Though My Heart is Torn is a powerful story of perseverance under testing.

[I heartily recommend books 1 & 2. Somehow I missed book 3! For shame.]

Enjoy Vast Horizons in WHERE WE BELONG by Lynn Austin

WHERE WE BELONG - Lynn AustinWHERE WE BELONG by Lynn Austin is an engaging story about Rebecca and Flora Hawes, two wealthy young ladies living in 19th century Chicago. They are determined people with boundless energy and optimism who go out of their way to evade the conventions of Victorian society. While seeking adventure and God’s will for their lives (some would say recklessly), they gather books, needy people, and ancient relics and manuscripts. At times Rebecca appears mischievous, but the misadventures she leads Flora on result from their high spirits, intelligence, curiosity, and belief that God wants them to use their talents and that He holds their days.

These young women seem to attract problems and hapless people like gum on a shoe grabs street debris. Readers enjoy accompanying them on their escapades because of their good cheer and good hearts. In doing so, we travel across vast expanses of history, perspectives, lands, and cultures ~ from Chicago to Paris to Cambridge to Egypt.

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Austin’s writing skill is certainly on display. Her ability to choose an apt detail and convey it in a crisp, powerful way brings her characters and settings into focus. For instance, Rebecca pondered the other girls from her class and decided “Being dainty was boring. Climbing trees … and skipping stones … was much more fun.” Aboard ship she watches other passengers and Austin draws them for the reader: “…the elegant French woman who was as tall and languid as a greyhound…”

cropped_clothes_hanging_out_of_tenement_building_windowsThe sights, sounds, and smells of Chicago streets come alive under Austin’s pen. “These homes are where families live and children play … gesturing to the rickety tenements webbed with strings of flapping laundry … a pen with live sheep and pigs … a group of ragged children playing in a mud puddle beneath the community’s water spigot…” We learn about the railroad station. “The vast, rumbling space shook with … the locomotives thundering in and out; the air smelled of coal, and steam, and hot iron rails.”

And I’ve never been a fan of the desert—real or in fiction. (Perhaps I spent too many  long, hot days crossing them with only 4/40 air conditioning—4 windows down, driving 40 miles per hour.) But in Austin’s hands, the desert is an intriguing, arid backdrop that perfectly fits the adversity and surprises the Hawes girls encounter there.

Austin immerses us in her characters so expertly that the events of their lives and views of the world seem completely natural to us ~ whether through the eyes of the non-conformist socialites or hard-luck young adults who’ve taken to the rough street life in order to survive.

Her writing makes the characters, their experiences, the settings pop off the page. The goals tenaciously sought become important to the reader. And as I mull over the story, every episode of the girls’ lives ends in my mind with this thought: “…. Just like Jesus.”

Rebecca and Flora are raised by a father with seemingly unending patience, love, and resources. This results in young women who want to be unbound by convention, society, and corsets; but unwavering in sharing their gifts and showing love to others. Without a moment’s hesitation they reach out to those less fortunate, “the least of these,” metaphorically providing a cup of cold water to barefoot girls working in a sweatshop, thieves and prisoners, orphans, the homeless—as were many Chicagoans after the great fire.

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Journeying with Rebecca and Flora has been a memorable experience. As iron sharpens iron, Rebecca and Flora not only have that effect on each other, they do the same to us, the fortunate readers.

Photo credits: St. Catherine’s Monastery panorama from Wikipedia, no photo credit given; laundry, Shorey; Chicago Fire, Currier & Ives, 1871.

REMODELING …

As with construction, renovating anything often involves messes, surprises, and delays. So it is with websites.  Please pardon our dust and delays. Hopefully you will think it’s all worth it when the new streamlined pages appear.

You can also look forward to more book reviews.  Awaiting are some captivating reads~

CHATEAU OF SECRETS, Melanie Dobson

MIST OF MIDNIGHT, Sandra Byrd

NEWTON & POLLY, Jody Hedlund

A SECRET COURAGE, Tricia Goyer

WHERE WE BELONG, Lynn Austin

 

BOOK REVIEFWS coming to blog

WORDS As Seeds, Stakes, and Harvest

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Seeds, stakes, and nurturing yield a rich harvest of tomatoes. They can also yield a rich harvest in lives when planted by words in hearts.

WORDS ~ They’ve been on my mind a lot lately. I heard a few powerful, provocative statements that got me once again pondering their impact.

Words as seeds, words as investment, words like a stake in the ground that we shove into the earth, stake our claim and say “Upon THIS belief I plant myself.” Then like the center pole of a merry-go-round, we proceed to live out our moments, our days, and our decisions around that principle.

Robin W. Pearson is a mom and fellow author. She homeschools her 7 children. (I’m imagining Laura Ingalls Wilder’s one-room schoolhouse.) Recently Robin wrote about listening to an educational show on the mysteries of the Bible where “scholars, theologians, and experts” basically contradicted much of Scripture in “authoritative” voices. Robin pondered the impact of such scholars on children, asking, “How might they influence those tender hearts while they’re busy steering their seeking minds?”

Legitimate concern about the types of seeds planted.

Another vignette: After years of answering “Why…?” questions, instruction on living by God’s priorities, and modeling God’s empowering despite one’s feelings, a parent receives a gift of simple words strung together, “Where do you think I learned that? … From you!”

Or one’s heart fills with hope for the future hearing, “Next time we come here, we should …”

Bountiful harvest of seeds planted.

Condoleezza Rice recently shared a story that demonstrates the planting of seeds. She grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. One election day, she and her father were driving and discussing the candidates and election results. Referring to George Wallace, she said “Surely we aren’t going to elect a segregationist like that.”

Her dad said that it appeared Wallace would be elected.

As they passed a line of blacks waiting to enter a polling place and vote, she asked, “Then why do those people even bother?”

“Because they know someday their vote will count.”

Powerful harvest shared.

Proverbs 25:11 equates well-spoken words to precious metals.  What words have been seeds someone planted in your life? What words might be a stake for you?

 

Book Review of GALLERIES OF STONE by C. J. Milbrandt

Statues on the legendary Moonlit Mountain have a life of their own.

c Roger Mosley

c Roger Mosley

Oh, my … Statues, a life of their own? How? What will they do? Should I be afraid?

And the adventure begins.

MEADOWSWEET

Book 1

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Freydolf, keeper of Moonlit Mountain, lives alone on the upper slope and needs someone to help tend the fires and carry water so he can focus on his work as Master Sculptor. When he descends to a hamlet on the plain, his choices are slim ~ because the villagers have heard terrorizing tales of a monster who reigns on the mountain. He selects Tupper, a small lad who doesn’t even stand as tall as Frey’s waist.

Tupper has been sent to work with the guidance, “Be brave and do your best.” Then he’s plunged into a foreign and unpredictable world, his only company a man with a beast-like appearance who gets so immersed in sculpting that he forgets everything ~ and everyone. Learning how to navigate his new job and environment is a massive challenge for the “slow” lad. While Tupper is parsimonious with words, he’s lavish with kindness. That, along with his courage and astonishing insight deliver to us readers a thoroughly entertaining and satisfying journey.

STONE Burial statue 2 - horizontalMilbrandt weaves a marvelously creative, whimsical world where mountains have moods and some people can discern those moods, even hear the mountain. Where mountains have keepers to protect their hearts. And stone statues can be woken. This is a tale brimming with love, loyalty, and delight ~ where every person and thing is valuable.

While the Galleries of Stone series may be labeled YA, the stories are chocked full of fun, mystery, and life lessons. Well worth reading as a family.

HARROW

Book 2

HARROW cover CJ

TreviFountainFromLeftSide - crop -wiki HORSEYou might think a story about statues who come to life would be frightening and morbid with people being tossed about like rag dolls until crushed. But when I finished reading Harrow, I was left amid a cloud of warmth and delight.

Milbrandt expands her cast of intriguing and engaging characters ~ stone and otherwise. She tells a lovely tale in which characters face challenges from prejudices, peas, and powerful adversaries and grow their talents, courage, faithfulness.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m absolutely crazy about young Tupper. Such a sensitive soul, he hears the needs of others ~ stone and otherwise ~ before they even make them known. Then, with utmost creativity and kindness, he finds solutions and adds abundance to all who live on Moonlit Mountain. Growing from child to teenager, he spends some time considering what characteristics he wants in a wife when the time finally comes. Having watched many silly, idle girls, one thing he’s decided: “He didn’t want a girl who didn’t pick her own lettuces.” The boy is practical as well as compassionate! And he is devoted to Freydolf, the master sculptor who hired him.

SCULPTURE - figures in fountain fr Scotland -Pla crThere isn’t much I don’t love about these stories. The characters and setting come boldly to life. And why shouldn’t a magic mountain and the varied, charming characters come to life. I mean—if statues awaken … And I’m fascinated by the varied ways in which the statues wake.

The story overflows with creativity, heroism, love, and joy. Though the Galleries of Stone trilogy may be labeled YA, these are family-friendly stories along the line of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, and are equally good for reading by any age, aloud to little ones, or as a family. I couldn’t have summed up any better than a Goodreads reviewer Megan Williamson: “Love, wonder, and laughter grow in all who are fortunate enough to be welcomed onto the Moonlit Mountain.”

Milbrandt is a master craftsman of creative story-telling. I recommend this book to all who want more light and joy in their day.

RAKEFANG

Book 3

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Rakefang reunites us with beloved characters from the series ~ mystified Freydolf, taciturn Tupper, flamboyant Aurelius, darling sweetpea-of-a-girl Dulcie who says “I luff you, Unca Doff” at every encounter with Frey. Indeed, all the varied cast of characters is here and they, with a few new ones, have formed a lively community atop Morven.

One of my favorite elements in Milbrandt’s engaging, fast-paced series is watching as each citizen’s strengths and talents are mobilized to resolve challenges, face threats, vanquish foes. They form a close-knit society, one most of us would love to join.

This charming tale brims with self-sacrifice, courage, loyalty, and bountiful love and creativity.

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Milbrandt’s Galleries of Stone stories are wonderful, and as good for all ages as The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings. Don’t pass up these classics-in-the-making.

Postscript ~ Putting this review together over the past week ran into Easter. I described in my previous post (April 17) how the song “Arise, My Love” touched me. It so clearly showed a heart full of love tenderly expressed. And it reminded me of the little family headed by Freydolf in the Galleries of Stone series. Please don’t be put off by fantasy elements or reference to magic. I cannot put words in the author’s mouth, but the “magic” in these stories to me represents miracles we see in Scripture. Like the Narnia stories, you’ll see representations of God in every chapter.

The author shares interactive activities and fun background information on her website here. And all manner of story art on her Pinterest page!

Note: Photo credits:

The misty mountain that leads us off here is really titled “Striped Peak across Freshwater Bay” by Roger Mosley. You can see more of his stunning work or contact him here: https://www.facebook.com/RogerMosleyPhotography

Horse sculpture, section of Trevi Fountain by Paul Vlaar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46580

Last photo, gallery of 3 statues, also section of Trevi fountain by Livioandronico2013 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45365468

An Easter Meditation ~ Love

Reflects my thoughts for Maundy Thursday into Good Friday ~

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And the darkness and horror and heartbreak dragged on through Friday. Most thought when Jesus died on the cross ~ it was over. But some parts of creation watched. And waited ~

After the darkness … and the watching … The Light burst forth. And an angel said to the women, “He is not here: for he is risen as he said.” ~ Matthew 28:6

Hallelujah!

Hallelujah!

And Easter morning “Arise, My Love” was sung … and I was undone. Undone by clearly hearing The Father’s heart bursting with love for The Son when He says:

“Arise, My Love, the grave no longer has a hold on you.”

Who can resist such a heart full of love expressed so tenderly? Not me. I wept most of the day, because that same heart full of love is also for me. And for you.

This song, decades old, is by Newsong. I’d never heard it. Have you? I’ve listened to a number of versions on youtube since then. Some with videos; some with only singers. The simple version I heard Easter Sunday at Shadow Mountain Community Church still seems the most beautiful rendition. You can listen to it if you’d like by accessing the church’s archives for a few weeks. “Arise, My Love” can be heard at 23:30 if you don’t have time or inclination to listen to the entire service. (But Pastor Jeremiah is well worth listening to. :-) ) May you know and feel that love, and the peace of the baby rabbit ~ waiting.

Kristy Cambron’s Stunning THE RINGMASTER’S WIFE

ringmaster_final-cover_nov-11In The Ringmaster’s Wife, Kristy Cambron takes us deep into the rapidly-changing 1920s with young ladies Mable and Lady Rosamund as they carve out lives of their own choosing, following their own dreams.

Cambron’s characters, both fictional historical, are totally believable and engaging. They’re delightfully flawed yet with redeeming aspects that make them endearing. A few times as decisions were made, I wanted to yell, “No! Don’t do that.” And while I was certain danger or heartache lay in that direction, each decision was consistent for that character.

MANOR HOUSE - perhaps ATHOLL fr Paula cr br summerWhether the reserved air of an English nobleman’s estate or the flamboyant life of the circus, Cambron creates a story world that sizzles with life. She has an uncanny ability to choose a golden-nugget detail that conveys the essence of a character, a place, a time. Each line brims with insight into both observer and observed. For example:

“Rosamund watched her mother’s transformation … showering compliments. Dripping with charm. Why her very words could have slithered through piles of sugar.”

CASTLE sitting room-museum frPaula cr Have we any doubt how Rosamund and her mother relate?

“He stood tall, owning his spot by the hearth with a devil-may-care ease unusual for a drawing room in Yorkshire.”

Or that the shocking new visitor captures Rose’s attention?

Scenes and settings come alive in the theater of our minds:

“Mable … walked through the halls of a sanitarium, trying to angle stiff crinolines and yards of lace around the metal wheels of hospital beds positioned as fabric traps …”

Cà d'Zan, Mable & John Ringling's home on Sarasota Bay in Florida.

Cà d’Zan, Mable & John Ringling’s home on Sarasota Bay in Florida.

With a thorough grasp of historical research (like another favorite author, Laura Frantz), Cambron’s stories ~ the fictional saga of Colin and Rosamund and the historical lives of John and Mable Ringling ~ are perfectly interlaced. The novel is such a seamless blend, it’s impossible to dissect the two threads while reading. So superbly woven that if Cambron didn’t tell me, I’d never suspect that half of the novel is not based on actual people. *

Because the two women around whom the story builds are 25 years apart in age, the story unfolds in chapters that jump back and forth in time. While each transition is marked with a date/location slug, I still found following the story a bit difficult. At times I had to return to the previous chapter in order to map out the relationship of the new action with the previous. A minor frustration in a story that captivated me. I cared about what happened in each person’s journey. And I will take great pleasure in re-reading The Ringmaster’s Wife with Cambron’s signature powerful story, lively settings, and fascinating characters. And her lovely way with words.

“Allowing … the clippings, one by one, to float out across the surface of the water. Every one of them danced.… Photos of Steinway pianos. Drawings of pink roses. Catalog pictures of fashion models … all disappeared in the blackness of the sea. It was a ticker-tape parade of forgotten dreams.”

Ahh …  Re-reading this is like savoring the finest chocolate.

* Cà d’Zan photo, courtesy of By Fred Hsu  https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57645633

Vision for a Tough Valentine’s Day

Ever feel left out on Valentine’s Day as waves of affection pour from radio, TV, even the grocery store? The expressions are meant to convey appreciation and love. But it can be a brutal day. When one is alone, the sentiments floating about the universe fly right past—aimed like Cupid’s arrow at someone else.

Years ago I was a struggling single mom living in a city away from family, and I cringed as the day full of hearts approached. One year our church planned a banquet—but unlike most year’s, billed it not as a Valentine’s Banquet but a Love Banquet. Everyone was invited—whole families, not just couples.

At last ~ a Valentine’s Day where I was not locked out from the celebration.

I asked a neighbor, another singleton, if she’d like to attend. So that evening we enjoyed great food. Pleasant chatting. A program singing and reading and preaching about love. But then the pastor asked all married couples to stand, face each other, hold hands, and then repeat a vow similar to marriage vows. My friend Linda & I endured a five-minute emotional beating as it appeared we were the only people sitting who were over the age of ten!

Loneliness is excruciating, even more so when a spotlight shines on you as the one loser in a crowd. I avoided all Valentine’s day banquets after that—no matter how family-friendly they were billed.

For those enduring loneliness through the Valentine’s Day hoopla—whether truly alone or lonely in a relationship—there’s GOOD NEWS!

Max Lucado’s devotional today reminds us that in God’s economy—no one “will be left out. God will see to that …. God will praise his children.” He reminds us that “the praise is personal! … Awards aren’t giving a nation at a time, a church at a time … The crowns are given one at a time. God will look you in the eye and bless you…” *

So if this day is difficult for you, turn to the Lover of your soul who cares about you—yes, you—personally and individually. He will whisper “I love you” and keep you in His tender care. And if you haven’t yet experienced that personal embrace from God, know this: There is nothing lacking in it. You will know you are precious to Him.

* From Max Lucado’s devotional, Grace for the Moment, Feb. 14. Published by J. Countryman.

[adapted from previous post]

A Journey through A MOONBOW NIGHT by Laura Frantz

MOONBow woods cr-BACKGROUND LOCATION - Woods450 COPYWhew. What a journey. I just returned from an arduous trek, blazing a trail thru untamed mountain wilderness of Kentucky. The doctors and lawmen back in Virginia could not help us with catastrophes there. But we enjoyed gifts along the way ~ like when lush moonlight “silvered  the woods and river.” And the “hallowed, heavenly magic … a star shower.” The moonbow rose from the mist of the falls, spanning the river, bands of white streaked with red and indigo and pale green, “vivid against the froth of the falls.”

 

 

GREEN VEIL OVIBut the journey was long. Through springtime teasing with warm breeze but dumping snow at night, “the cold polishing every rock and speck of grass like barley sugar.” Summer with its veil of green protecting us but also hiding danger. And heated “air shimmering like a cast-iron skillet.” Autumn with its canopy of color, treacherous when wet and fallen.

MOONBOW copy-SNOWY EVERGREEN TREE -crop - half Cmkm colorI ache with the walking and carrying supplies. My mind and senses cannot rest after months of being alert to any subtle change. Getting lazy in observing allows death to strike. I wonder if I will ever settle, not react to every slight sound. Every variance of breeze or temperature or color of the sky …

 

But wait. As I rouse, a book slips from my fingers and I sit in my own room. I glance around. Gradually senses adapt as I drift out of story-world reality of A MOONBOW NIGHT and into my 21st-century home.

moonbow night cover

As a reader I love a good story. One that invites turning pages quickly, chasing plot turns with characters that have captured my interest. I want be so immersed in a book that closing the cover and returning to my time and place is a shock. Laura Frantz writes stories that come alive. A venture she succeeds in every time. For a reader, that is enough to know opening A MOONBOW NIGHT will bring satisfaction.

Frantz creates living, breathing characters. Though this is her fourth novel set in l770-1790 Kentucky, her characters are always fresh, distinct, and seem to emerge perfectly from the era. Not a retread among them.

She places these characters in a time of keeping delicate balances. Frontier living was living on a knife’s edge. Survival was tentative at best. The times demanded one be constantly alert and correctly interpret even the most subtle of things around them. A rapidly-hidden glance. A slight weather shift. A near-indiscernible sound. A barely-there hint of something out of order—a fallen leaf out of season, birdsong gone silent, hoof print with no shoe… Missing natural or human clues left one vulnerable. Death could be sudden—in a rockfall, a storm, gunshot, snakebite. 

Trkee river

Much of MOONBOW unfurls as Tempe Tucker or Sion Morgan (with various companions) travel. Sometimes they trek familiar, narrow paths; other times unfamiliar territory, be it tough terrain, rough rivers, forests lost in fog or laced with enemies. Many miles are walked, then backtracked. Yet throughout Frantz keeps the action moving in a setting that some might see as an endless slate of green and wood to forge through. Not once does she revert to lazy repetition.

MOONBOW Yosemite - falls close up brtWith her extraordinary observation and writing skill, every turn of trail and fortune unfolds in a vividly-drawn setting. Much like inhabitants of extreme northern climes have a vast number of words for snow, Frantz finds a seemingly infinite variety of sights, sounds, and senses within which to place the action. No cookie-cutter travelogue descriptions here. Rather, an endless diversity of vegetation impedes progress or provides food, fuel, or healing agents as the characters move thru the forest. A variety of sounds soothe … or frighten, an array of sights assist in navigating the journey … or stirring emotions.

An example is when Tempe recalls first traveling to Kentucky. Weeks upon weeks amid a long, snaking column of people and animals, eating cornbread and meat that tasted of wood smoke and ashes, clothes full of briars and burrs. Then one night she was lost in a sunset, “a blaze of red and gold, the sky pretty as a party dress.”

God is Present Sunset cprt color - MOONBow copy

The germ of the story is a little-publicized event in the life of Daniel Boone. Frantz says learning about it as a child impacted her greatly. Around that incident, she’s woven a plot as filled with twists and turns as paths early surveyors had to travel through the wilderness. Sion, Tempe, and her family~indeed all the secondary characters spring to life so authentically connected to the era and location that MOONBOW seems a tale of history told, not a novel spun from Frantz’s imagination. Even knowing beforehand that part of the story was fact-based, as I read I could not find the line between fact and fiction.

Frantz’s diction is another area where she displays her skill and her readers benefit tremendously. Her language is fresh, evocative, sensory, and captures the dialect of the times.

LIFE is chancy posterShe also captures the unsettledness and danger of 1777, a year of much violence and bloodshed in Kentucky known as “the bloody sevens.” Indian attacks grew more common. Constant vigilance and heightened senses were required. The story shows the toll vigilance takes, and the price of being careless.

Fog in valleyTempe, as expert as any professional guide, regularly finds solace from the past that haunts her by wandering through the woods. But now fewer patrons stop at their inn, and fog settles in. “The lull unsettled her. She didn’t dare venture far with the fog. It seemed to take the land captive whilst scrambling her usually sound sense of direction. Without the sun or North Star as her guide, she felt adrift.”  [p 65]

MOONBOW - blossom“Tempe was struck right then by how chancy life was. Like a spider’s web or an eggshell or a butterfly’s wing. Their world seemed made of little losses. She was always having to say goodbye, part with something. A brilliant sunset. A blossom. A sweet feeling.”  [p 182]

And again as Tempe trekked toward a favorite place:

MOONBOW - tree-massive“A hymn stirred in her spirit. Her mouth opened, then shut. She sensed the meadow wasn’t entirely hers … she felt a cloudiness. Not fear, just a foreboding, a heightening tension. She stepped behind a chestnut, its bulk broad as two men.

Raven.

He crossed the clearing, moving with an easy grace, gaze turned toward her as if telling her she was plain as a parakeet with its noisy chatter and brilliant plumage. She looked down at her showy skirt, dyed pumpkin orange … Half Chickamauga Cherokee, Raven seemed rootless, restless, living between two worlds, never quite at home in either. Whenever she saw him he was on the move, usually on the Warrior’s Path. But today he was in this very meadow, near her beloved Fairy Rock.

She felt … wronged.

Chafing … she stepped from behind the tree as if to banish any territorial thoughts. This was Indian ground be it anyone’s. She had no special claim … ‘Twas more Raven’s than hers.”  [p 70]

SCOTs AZALEA or rhod - MOONBOWThough the story is set in a turbulent, violent era, and covers many raw, tough days, do not fear it’s a dark and overwhelming story. That all is relieved when Frantz peppers the story with beautiful observations, joyous experiences, noble deeds, glimmers of hope, as well as snatches of humor. In this example Tempe, concerned by the reserve between her brother Russell and her friend (clearly smitten with him) decides to intervene.

“Mama, maybe it’s time to give Russell a talking to.”

[Her mother’s] dark brows arched. “What for?”

“Don’t you want some grandchildren?”

“I’d like a wedding first.”  [p 95]

Laura Frantz’s skill as a story-teller astonishes me. A MOONBOW NIGHT is filled with accurate historical detail, intricately woven, and beautiful. As a writer, I re-read her novels as a master class on technique. Though I must say studying them to explain details of writing craft feels like an intrusive act that violates their integrity and beauty, much like dissecting a delicate flower or pinning a lovely butterfly.

Thorough research is another of Frantz’s hallmarks. I could fill a page listing the areas she has mastered to give us the verisimilitude in this story—history, tracking, Indian languages, plant/animal knowledge, food preservation, weapons, to name only a few. All that plus her keen observational skills, and familiarity with and love of the region combine to create a world so immediate that a reader cannot help but inhabit it. You will find yourself holding your breath, the hair on the back of your neck tingling as you sense, without knowing why, impending doom. And relief will make your legs go weak when help arrives.

I think the magic of Frantz’s writing (which in my experience is shared by only a few) is that her stories are not so much read as lived.

 Visit with Laura on her blog or Facebook or Pinterest. She’ll be thrilled to meet you.

THE THORN BEARER by Pepper Basham

This is a bold, compelling story that sweeps across minefields of the Atlantic and of the heart. From the back cover:

From the decks of the ill-fated Lusitania to the smoke-filled trenches of France, Ashleigh must choose between the forgiveness of her past, life in the present, and a Savior who can rescue her from them all.

When her fiancé leaves her eight months before their wedding, the unexpected blow ignites a battalion of insecurities stemming from her father’s intimate betrayal. Her worst fears are confirmed – who could ever love a soiled woman? In an attempt to escape the shame and disappointment of her past, Ashleigh boards the ill-fated Lusitania to cross the war-torn waters of Europe. Much to her dismay, she isn’t traveling alone.

Sam Miller is always making up for his best friend’s mistakes. Determined to help Ashleigh, he offers his compassion and protection as she ventures across a perilous sea. With the faint hope of renewing his lost love for Ashleigh’s sister, Sam never expects to find the woman of his dreams in his best friend’s former fiancé and his own childhood companion.

As they travel across the Atlantic, neither is prepared for the life-altering and heart-breaking journey of their friendship. When the truth of Ashleigh’s past explodes in the middle of war and Sam rejects her, Ashleigh must decide if God is enough – or if the double weight of her betrayal and past will crush her life forever.

The description of The Thorn Bearer paints a heavy, emotional journey for Ashleigh, Sam as well. And indeed it is. But the story proceeds at a brisk pace, and relief comes in bright spots of various forms ~

~ Generous support of a kindred spirit, such as Sam comforting his friend: “None of this was your fault, Ashleigh … Michael was the fool and coward. I’m sorry he broke your heart.”

~ Insights that might resonate with readers, such as Ashleigh’s: “Time has proven to heal many of the wounds Michael left behind, it has also clarified other feelings. Time is a powerful friend or adversary.”                    

~ Tender interactions with children

~ Self-sacrifice by many characters

Multiple storylines bring us characters who arouse both interest and emotion. They’re wounded in a wide variety of ways. Their lives collide and twist together then apart, at times by choice. And sometimes the separation is forced upon them, such as when the Lusitania is torpedoed and sinks.

The Thorn Bearer is a dance of communication amidst a fast-flowing stream of situations that shuffle the characters and their futures. Exquisitely veiled dialogue allows much opportunity for misunderstanding and plot complications. Basham excels in hinting at feelings not shown and things left unsaid. Romance stories benefit from this skill.

To be fair, romances are generally not my genre of choice. And romance in this novel is a major focus. Some sexual elements are also involved—though sensitively handled and more referenced than shown. But the story is equally about forgiveness (in many contexts other than sexual). Some typos/repeated words interrupted the flow briefly, but not enough to prevent understanding.

Basham braids her story around the taut theme of broken people needing to give and receive forgiveness. Her characters indulge in a wide variety wrong-doing ~ lies and half-truths, assault, betrayal, theft, cruelty among them ~ allowing all story lines to be neatly woven into a powerful, cohesive tale. The spiritual elements emerge and flow naturally from the characters’ struggles.

THE THORN BEARER is an energetic story (much like the author herself) that covers a lot of territory ~ both across the dangerous miles of the Atlantic Ocean and the minefields of the heart. It is a satisfying book and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

You can learn more about Pepper, her abundant joy, bountiful humor, and the romances she weaves these into on her blog.