Everyday Tidbits...

"Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile." - William Cullen Bryant

Friday, December 31, 2010

How do people find my blog, Part 4

It's been almost a year since my last installment of How Do People Find My Blog. Sometimes, it's quite interesting, and even a bit confusing! So, sit back and laugh at some of the searches that have brought people to 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews.

dinner time with 2 kids...  Can be an interesting and enlightening experience!  My personal opinion is that family dinner is important.  There is no substitute for sitting down together as a family to eat.  It doesn't matter what you eat.  What matters is that you're together and you're talking.  Ask questions, inquire about each others' days.  Ask, "what was the best thing that happened to you today?"  Ask, "what was the hardest thing that happened?"  Connect with your children.  It's important.

kids who must have the last word...  I have one of those.  He's 12.

evidence on why kids are tired in the morning...  At my house, it's because they've stayed up too late.  Usually they're reading.

eng book review for class 10 not more than 2 pages... Write your own book review.  Seriously.  Read the damn thing and write the review.  It's not hard.

have two kids / blog...  Hey, me too!

why kids love chocolate...  Because they're human?  Mine love it because it's coded into their DNA.  Truly.  They're cursed.

how can light be changed to another form of energy...  No idea.  I have a degree in English, not science.  My 12 year probably knows.

x-force sex and violence 2 review...  You won't find that kind of review here.  Sorry.

the mailbox is it a good book for 4th graders... Not the one I read.  It's a terrific book, but it's not a juvenile book.

expectations of having two kids...   Don't have expectations.  Seriously.  You'll be disappointed.  Just go with it and enjoy them.

how to raise a stubborn red headed toddler boy... 
Neither of mine are red heads, but I can tell you about raising a dark-haired boy and a lighter-haired boy...
 
is mary beth chapman mormon... 
No, she is not.

does God want me to lose my house...
I can't speak for God when it comes to your life, but I wouldn't think so.  There are lessons there for you to learn through the trials and experiences you have. Sometimes those trials come from choices you've made, sometimes they come from choices other people have made. Those trials also might involve losing your house, but I don't think God is sitting there saying, "you need to lose your house".

what does God want me to consider as I make decisions about money...
That is between you and God. 

compare the similarities between children today and children in the past...  T
his is always a fascinating exercise and one I love to ponder and research on occasion.  Just comparing my childhood with that of my own children is fascinating.

two kids mother tired...
Don't I know it!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Doctor Who: The Glamour Chase...Review

About the book:
An archaeological dig in 1936 unearths relics of another time...and, as the Doctor and Amy realise, another place. Another planet.

But if Enola Porter, noted adventuress, has really found evidence of an alien civilization, how come she isn't famous? Why has Rory never heard of her? Added to that, since Amy's been traveling with him for a while now, why does she now think the Doctor is from Mars?

As the ancient spaceship reactivates, the Doctor discovers that nothing and no one can be trusted. The things that seem most real could actually be literal fabrications--and very deadly indeed.

Who can the Doctor believe when no one is what they seem?  And how can he defeat an enemy who can bend matter itself to their will?  For the Doctor, Amy and Rory--and all of humanity--the buried secrets of the past are very much a threat to the present.

A thrilling, all-new adventure featuring the Doctor, Amy Rory, as played by Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill in the spectacular hit series from BBC Television.

I love Doctor Who.  And while I wasn't too sure at first, I love Matt Smith's Doctor.  He owns the role now and it works.  I love the show and I enjoy reading the tie-in novels.

Rory features prominently here and it was so nice to see him get some credit for being bright.  I'm afraid that he will end up being the tin dog of the series and I like him too much for that to happen.  Seeing him take more of a strong role here was refreshing.

This one sounded interesting and, for the most part, it was.  The aliens who need rescuing are a fascinating breed and would make for interesting graphics were this a televised episode. 

Sometimes the novels absolutely capture the Doctor's voice and sometimes they don't.  This one tried too hard to capture Matt Smith's Doctor and it was easier for me to picture David Tennant's Doctor speaking the dialogue. 

The story wasn't the easiest to follow and I found myself skimming some sections, but it was a light diversion while waiting for the Christmas special!

Personal copy.  You can purchase your own here.

Read 12/10

* *
2/5 Stars

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Vigilante's Bride...Review

About the book:
Montana Territory, 1884Is Her Kidnapper the Only Man Who Can Keep Her Safe?

Robbing a stagecoach on Christmas Eve and abducting a woman passenger is the last thing Luke Sullivan expected to do. He just wanted to reclaim the money stolen from his pa, but instead ended up rescuing a feisty copper-haired woman who was on her way to marry Sullivan's dangerous enemy.

Emily McCarthy doesn't take kindly to her so-called rescue. Still, she's hoping Providence will turn her situation for good, especially when it seems Luke Sullivan may just be the man of her dreams. But Luke has crossed a vicious man, a powerful rancher not used to losing, and Emily is the prize he's unwilling to sacrifice.


Liked it, didn't love it.  The story bounces between viewpoints but, really, it's more Luke's story than Emily's, which isn't exactly a problem, because I liked Luke.  I never did like Emily and her contrived conflicts with Luke never seemed unbelievable.  I found myself annoyed with her more than anything. 

It was light on everything.  Light on the Christian, light on the romance, light on the substance and characterization. A nice diversion, nothing more.

Thanks to Bethany House for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Yvonne Harris here. You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 12/10

* * * 
3/5 Stars

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas


The secret of Christmas,
Is not the things you do at Christmas time
But the Christmas things you do
All year through.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Christmas Apron...Review

About the book:
It’s nearly Christmas, and the seven children in Millie’s family can’t wait for Grandma to arrive with her special Christmas apron, newly pressed and filled with generations of holiday memories. According to tradition, each grandchild will carefully write down the gift he or she wants most in the world, and then slip that wish into the apron’s frilled pocket. Then, on Christmas morning, those wished-for gifts will be waiting under the tree — like magic. Little Will wants Lincoln Logs; nine-year-old Grace wants a horse of her very own. Even eleven-year-old Millie, who’s too old to believe in magic, has a precious wish in mind — a pair of silky pink toe shoes.

But one dark evening, Millie overhears a worrisome conversation between her parents: due to wartime shortages, the family can’t afford gifts for all the little ones. She pictures the terrible disappointment on her siblings’ faces: no toys or games or art supplies to open on Christmas morning (and certainly no horse for Grace!) From that point on, she wrestles with a terrible question: Is she willing to sacrifice her own whole-soul wish so that someone else’s can come true? Full of tender emotion and delightful surprise, this story reminds us of the miracles that unfold when we think of others before ourselves.

Millie is an eleven year old girl living during the bleak days of World War II.  Money is scarce, but love abounds.  All Milllie wants for Christmas is ballet pointe shoes.  All her sister wants is a horse.  When her grandmother arrives with her magic apron, Millie wonders if her family's wishes really will come true this year. 

A beautiful story about families.  One that calls to mind The Gift of the Magi.  I wear an apron nearly every day, all day.  I love that they protect my clothes as I work around my home and care for my family. I absolutely love the sentiments expressed in this lovely little story that, "Aprons help us do the most important work there is--family work.  The work that says, 'I love you'."  This speaks to my heart! 

I love these short, pamphlet-sized  Christmas stories.  This is one that is easily read in a sitting.  I think it would make a fantastic gift and if it was accompanied by an apron, an even better one!

I read my own, personal copy, but you can purchase your own here and here.

Read 12/10

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lipstick in Afghanistan...Review

About the book:
Roberta Gately’s lyrical and authentic debut novel—inspired by her own experiences as a nurse in third world war zones—is one woman’s moving story of offering help and finding hope in the last place she expected.

Gripped by haunting magazine images of starving refugees, Elsa has dreamed of becoming a nurse since she was a teenager. Of leaving her humble working-class Boston neighborhood to help people whose lives are far more difficult than her own. No one in her family has ever escaped poverty, but Elsa has a secret weapon: a tube of lipstick she found in her older sister’s bureau. Wearing it never fails to raise her spirits and cement her determination. With lipstick on, she can do anything—even travel alone to war-torn Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11.

But violent nights as an ER nurse in South Boston could not prepare Elsa for the devastation she witnesses at the small medical clinic she runs in Bamiyan. As she struggles to prove herself to the Afghan doctors and local villagers, she begins a forbidden romance with her only confidant, a charming Special Forces soldier. Then, a tube of lipstick she finds in the aftermath of a tragic bus bombing leads her to another life-changing friendship. In her neighbor Parween, Elsa finds a kindred spirit, fiery and generous. Together, the two women risk their lives to save friends and family from the worst excesses of the Taliban. But when the war waging around them threatens their own survival, Elsa discovers her only hope is to unveil the warrior within. Roberta Gately’s raw, intimate novel is an unforgettable tribute to the power of friendship and a poignant reminder of the tragic cost of war.


Wow.  What a remarkable novel. I liked Elsa and her spunk and strength.  I loved Parween and her strength and devotion to her own country and to helping the women of Afghanistan, even at her own peril.  The story is beautifully descriptive.

Women connect with each other, no matter the country and their personal circumstances in life and the way that lipstick is woven through the story is clever and adds to the poignancy.  I can how this novel will appeal to book groups. I so wish for a more satisfying conclusion to Elsa and Mike's relationship.

I am not an aid worker, nor am I a nurse.  I have never traveled any place remotely dangerous, unless you count surviving a taxi ride in Rome.  I don't know how accurate or inaccurate the details of this story are, but I do know that it is a fascinating story.  Some readers will want to be aware of mild, but not gratuitous, use of the F word.

The story is fictional, but people and experiences are based on the author's own experiences as a nurse in Afghanistan.  A fascinating, poignant story about the power of friendship.

Thanks to Simon & Shuster for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Roberta Gately here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 12/10

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dear Mrs. Kennedy...Review

About the book:
In the weeks and months following the assassination of her husband, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy received over one million letters. The impact of President Kennedy’s death was so immense that people from every station in life wrote to her, sharing their feelings of sympathy, sorrow, and hope.

She received letters from political luminaries such as Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Charles De Gaulle. Hollywood stars like Lauren Bacall, Vivian Leigh, and Gene Kelly voiced their sympathy, as did foreign dignitaries including Queen Elizabeth II, the King and Queen of Greece, and the Prince of Monaco. Distinguished members of the arts and society—Ezra Pound, Noel Coward, Babe Paley, Langston Hughes, Oleg Cassini, Josephine Baker—offered their heartfelt condolences. And children, with the most heartbreaking sincerity, reached out to the First Lady to comfort her in her time of grief.

More than just a compendium of letters, Dear Mrs. Kennedy uses these many voices to tell the unforgettable story of those fateful four days in November, when the world was struck with shock and sadness. It vividly captures the months that followed, as a nation—and a family—attempted to rebuild.

Filled with emotion, patriotism, and insight, these letters present a poignant time capsule of one of the seminal events of the twentieth century: a diverse portrait, not only of the aftermath of the assassination, but of the Kennedy mystique that continues to captivate the world.

Americans connected with the Kennedy family in a way that they had never done with previous presidents.  Perhaps it's was JFK's youth or his ideals.  Perhaps it was his movie-star looks and beautiful, poised young wife.  Perhaps it was the fact that technology had made it possible for a real-time look at the president.  In November of 1963, while the world watched, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and many Americans were forever changed.  Those who remember that day, remember where they were and what they were doing, much as those who experienced 9/11 remember what they were doing when the twin towers fell.

After the assassination millions of people, from around the world, sent letters of sympathy and condolence to Jacqueline Kennedy.  Many are from famous people:  actors and politicians and foreign dignitaries.  Most are from every day Americans; people who had no connection to this man, other than respect for his office and shock and grief at his violent death.

After their initial reading, these letters remained largely untouched in storage and many are now being published and seen by the public for the first time.  These letters are interspersed with commentary and explanations about the time and offer a compelling, poignant glimpse into a tragic period of American history.

I noticed some editing issues and towards the end it got a bit repetitive, but I still found it fascinating, although not very uplifting. I think JFK fans will enjoy it.

Thanks to Alexis James, publicist for the author, for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Paul de Angelis here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 12/10

* * *
5/5 Stars

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Uncle Eben's Christmas...Review

About the book:
Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, Eben doesn't mind Christmas. Actually it gives his business the extra year-end boost he's come to expect. Unfortunately he's an atheist and has little toleration for “Christ” in Christmas. This year he is forbidding his employees to greet the customers with “Merry Christmas,” and is insisting that they say “Happy Holidays” instead. As Christmas draws near, a battle begins to brew in his soul. Coworkers, relatives, customers, almost everyone seems to be against his line of thinking.

Mrs. Muddleheim, his secretary, is a constant reminder of his lack of spirituality. Bethany, his favorite cashier, balks at not saying “Merry Christmas” to the customers. Pastor Edwards, preaching at a cantata appears to be directing his message solely at him. Hannah, his sister, and her family also seem to be part of the same conspiracy to convert him. Ginger, his niece, quotes the Bible to him. And Charles, his brother-in-law, easily rebuffs his counterattack against the Bible.

Rejecting the Gospel when he was a teen, Eben grew up and went onto start a successful business. Now he scoffs at anything religious, attributing his success to his own efforts. While he's not happy about his sister's Christian beliefs, his love for his niece and nephew occasionally has him attending church services when they perform.

Uncle Eben's Christmas looks at the state of an unbeliever who profits from Christmas, yet gives none of the glory to God. It's the story of one man who is surrounded by Christians who he finds as poor, deluded, misguided individuals, yet is in his own bleak state about to get the wake-up call of a lifetime!

In a climatic dream, Eben meets an angelic being that takes him to the past, present, and future. These troubling experiences open his eyes to an apparently bleak future. But maybe there is still hope...

I love Christmas.  I love the opportunity it gives us to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. I love Charles Dickens' story, A Christmas Carol and Ebeneezer Scrooge's amazing transformation.  I suppose it's inevitable that stories like this pop up every Christmas. And this one is an interesting, if not extreme, modern day take on that same story. 

I liked Uncle Eben's Christmas, but didn't love it.  I found it very preachy with all the talk of salvation and the unbeliever. Eben's sudden conversion is a bit convenient, but certainly the predictable ending.  While it won't end up on my must-read Christmas list, mainstream Christians will, no doubt, enjoy it.

Thanks to Arielle at Bring It On! Communications for the opportunity to review this book.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 12/10

* * * 
3/5 Stars


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Amy Inspired...Review

About the book:
Amy Gallagher is an aspiring writer who, after countless rejections, has settled for a career as an English professor in small-town Ohio just to pay the bills. All her dreams suddenly start to unravel as rejections pile up--both from publishers and her boyfriend. But just as Amy fears her life is stuck in a holding pattern, she meets the mysterious, attractive, and unavailable Eli.

She struggles to walk the fine line between friendship and something more with Eli, even as staying true to her faith becomes unexpectedly complicated. When secrets, tragedy, and poor decisions cause rifts in Amy's relationships, she must come to terms with who she's become, her unrealized aspirations for her life, and the state of her faith. Can she dare to hope that she will find love and fulfillment despite it all?

I've seen such mixed reviews about this book and mine will probably be no different.  I enjoyed the story, but I didn't love it.  I found the ending lacking and really didn't understand the author ended it the way she did.

Amy's voice is great, but the story is all over the board.  I found myself wondering what the real purpose for writing it.  Is it a story about a single women searching for her purpose and path in life?  Is the focus Amy and Eli?  Is the focus friendship or family relationships? The ring of truth to Amy suggests that it's partially autobiographical and that the author based Amy on herself. Which is fine, because I did like Amy.  I never quite understood her attraction to Eli.

Light on the Christian, this is an interesting commentary on the life of writers and wannabe writers.  It's actually quite well written and the language is lyrical.  I liked it, I didn't love it.

Thanks to Bethany House for the opportunity to review this book.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 12/10

* * * 
3/5 Stars

Friday, December 17, 2010

Promise Me...Review

About the book:

Beth Cardall has a secret. For eighteen years, she has had no choice but to keep it to herself, but on Christmas Eve 2008, all that is about to change.

For Beth, 1989 was a year marked by tragedy. Her life was falling apart: her six-year-old daughter, Charlotte, was suffering from an unidentifiable illness; her marriage transformed from a seemingly happy and loving relationship to one full of betrayal and pain; her job at the dry cleaners was increasingly at risk; and she had lost any ability to trust, to hope, or to believe in herself. Then, on Christmas Day, as she rushed through a blizzard to the nearest 7-Eleven, Beth encountered Matthew, a strikingly handsome, mysterious stranger, who would single-handedly change the course of her life.

Who is this man, and how does he seem to know so much about her? He pursues her relentlessly, and only after she’s fallen deeply in love with him does she learn his incredible secret, changing the world as she knows it, as well as her own destiny.

Some books just leave you speechless.  This review has been percolating in my mind for several days and I still can't put my thoughts into words.   

Richard Paul Evans is a great storyteller and this story is imaginative and full of so many things: twists and turns, ups and downs, sorrows and joys, magical realism, and love and loss.  I think it would be a terrific book club book. 

I liked it.  A lot.  I don't know that I loved it.  It moved me and somewhat resonated with me.  I didn't want to put it down.  Yet, in some ways, it also disturbed me.  I'm not sure how to even review it without giving away spoilers.  I certainly did not anticipate the unexpected twist.

Thanks to Simon & Shuster for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Richard Paul Evans here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 12/10

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression...Review

About the book:
An inspiring account of America at its worst-and Americans at their best-woven from the stories of Depression-era families who were helped by gifts from the author's generous and secretive grandfather.

Shortly before Christmas 1933 in Depression-scarred Canton, Ohio, a small newspaper ad offered $10, no strings attached, to 75 families in distress. Interested readers were asked to submit letters describing their hardships to a benefactor calling himself Mr. B. Virdot. The author's grandfather Sam Stone was inspired to place this ad and assist his fellow Cantonians as they prepared for the cruelest Christmas most of them would ever witness.

Moved by the tales of suffering and expressions of hope contained in the letters, which he discovered in a suitcase 75 years later, Ted Gup initially set out to unveil the lives behind them, searching for records and relatives all over the country who could help him flesh out the family sagas hinted at in those letters. From these sources, Gup has re-created the impact that Mr B. Virdot's gift had on each family. Many people yearned for bread, coal, or other necessities, but many others received money from B. Virdot for more fanciful items-a toy horse, say, or a set of encyclopedias. As Gup's investigations revealed, all these things had the power to turn people's lives around--even to save them.

But as he uncovered the suffering and triumphs of dozens of strangers, Gup also learned that Sam Stone was far more complex than the lovable- retiree persona he'd always shown his grandson. Gup unearths deeply buried details about Sam's life-from his impoverished, abusive upbringing to felonious efforts to hide his immigrant origins from U.S. officials-that help explain why he felt such a strong affinity to strangers in need. Drawing on his unique find and his award-winning reportorial gifts, Ted Gup solves a singular family mystery even while he pulls away the veil of eight decades that separate us from the hardships that united America during the Depression. In A Secret Gift, he weaves these revelations seamlessly into a tapestry of Depression-era America, which will fascinate and inspire in equal measure.

I enjoyed this story.  I enjoyed it so much that when it disappeared during my recent move, I was more than annoyed.  I'm anxious to finish it as soon as it turns up, but my review will be the same, no matter what.  Simply put, this is just a captivating book.  It's a fascinating look into the lives of every day people during the depression.  It's the story of a generous man, who wasn't immune to the troubles of the time, but a man who, during the Christmas of 1933, found himself better off than most people.  Because of that, he wanted to do something to help others.

The letters what were sent to B. Virdot are tender and poignant.  This was such a different time.  People didn't want handouts, they wanted work to support their families.  They were proud and honest.  There was no sense of entitlement.

An interesting and enlightening book about a dark and difficult time in America's history, but also a sentimental story of hope and the kindness of others.

Thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Ted Gup here.  You can see other reviews and tour stops here. You can purchase your own copy here

Read 11/10

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Sound of Sleigh Bells...Review

About the book:
Beth Hertzler works alongside her beloved Aunt Lizzy in their dry goods store, and serving as contact of sorts between Amish craftsmen and Englischers who want to sell the Plain people’s wares. But remorse and loneliness still echo in her heart everyday as she still wears the dark garb, indicating mourning of her fiancĂ©. When she discovers a large, intricately carved scene of Amish children playing in the snow, something deep inside Beth’s soul responds and she wants to help the unknown artist find homes for his work–including Lizzy’s dry goods store. But she doesn’t know if her bishop will approve of the gorgeous carving or deem it idolatry.

Lizzy sees the changes in her niece when Beth shows her the woodworking, and after Lizzy hunts down Jonah, the artist, she is all the more determined that Beth meets this man with the hands that create healing art. But it’s not that simple–will Lizzy’s elaborate plan to reintroduce her niece to love work? Will Jonah be able to offer Beth the sleigh ride she’s always dreamed of and a second chance at real love–or just more heartbreak?


I loved Cindy Woodsmall's Sisters of the Quilt series, but I found The Sound of Sleigh Bells somewhat disappointing.  I'm not sure what it was.  It has all the makings of a terrific Christmas novella and is Amish to boot.

I liked Beth and Jonah, but Lizzy and her interfering annoyed me.  It felt rushed and undeveloped, and I think it would make a better, longer novel.  Still, it's a light, engaging read and one that fans of Cindy Woodsmall will undoubtedly love.

You can purchase your own copy here.

Personal copy read 12/10. 

* *
2/5 Stars

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Life Choices...Preview

About the book:

If life didn’t challenge us,how could we know how strong we are?
How would we learn who we are capable of becoming?
There is no such thing as life without struggle. No one comes out of a struggle the same as he or she was when it began. Everyone has to make choices between giving up or growing stronger.
These authors hope that by sharing their stories, you will realize no matter how many pieces your life is in or what they look like, you can fit them together into a picture of wholeness and success.

 About the Author:
Judi Moreo, CSP, is the publisher and one of the 26 authors in this book, Life Choices: Putting the Pieces Together. She is also the author of the best selling book, You Are More Than Enough: Every Woman’s Guide to Purpose, Passion, and Power, and its companion, Achievement Journal. She is a Certified Speking Professional (fewer than 10% of the speakers in the world hold this designation), an award-winning businesswoman and motivational speaker. Her superb talent for customizing programs to meet organizational needs has gained her a prestigious following around the world. Her passion for living an extraordinary life is mirrored in her zeal for helping others realize their potential and achieve their goals as you can see by the 26 stories of the co-authors in this book. With her dynamic personality and style, she is an unforgettable speaker, inspiring motivator, and an exceptional writing and speaking coach. Visit the book’s website at www.lifechoicesbook.com.

---------------------------------
Thanks to Dorothy at Pump Up Your Book for the opportunity to preview this book.  You can learn more about Judi Moreo here.  You can see other stops on the book tour here. You can purchase your own copy here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House...Review

About the book:
When other girls her age were experiencing their first crushes, Melissa Sue Anderson was receiving handwritten marriage proposals from fans as young, and younger, than she was. When other girls were dreaming of their first kiss, Melissa was struggling through hers in front of a camera. From age eleven in 1974 until she left the show in 1981, Melissa Anderson literally grew up before the viewers of Little House on the Prairie.

Melissa, as Mary, is remembered by many as "the blind sister"—and she was the only actor in the series to be nominated for an Emmy. In The Way I See It, she takes readers onto the set and inside the world of the iconic series created by Michael Landon, who, Melissa discovered, was not perfect, as much as he tried to be. In this memoir she also shares her memories of working with guest stars like Todd Bridges, Mariette Hartley, Sean Penn, Patricia Neal, and Johnny Cash.

In addition to stories of life on the set, Melissa offers revealing looks at her relationships off-set with her costars, including the other Melissa (Melissa Gilbert) and Alison Arngrim, who portrayed Nellie Oleson on the show. And she relates stories of her guest appearances on iconic programs such as The Love Boat and The Brady Bunch.

Filled with personal, revealing anecdotes and memorabilia from the Little House years, this book is also a portrait of a child star who became a successful adult actress and a successful adult. These are stories from "the other Ingalls sister" that have never been told.

The reviews for this book really run the gamut from 1 to 5 stars.  Having read Prairie Tale by Melissa Gilbert and Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim, I was curious to learn Melissa Sue Anderson's perspective.

Melissa's story is certainly interesting.  Perhaps not as salacious as the other two, but still interesting.  Both Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim talk about Melissa Sue Anderson in fairly negative terms and, from their stories, it is clear that the three were not real friends.  By them, she is portrayed as haughty and snotty and stuck up.  But, from Melissa Anderson's perspective, she simply states that the girls weren't encouraged to be good friends.  I inferred that because she was older, she had her own life and interests and they didn't include strong associations with all of her fellow cast members.  She had nothing overly negative to say about Melissa or Alison. 

It's apparent that Melissa values her privacy and there aren't any tabloidesque stories here, probably because that is not how she seemed to live her life.   She left show business several years after Little House, when she got married and wanted to raise her family.  I have a great deal of respect for people who make that decision and stick with it.

Melissa talks about some of the Mary-centric episodes that she did on Little House and provides commentary about her experiences filming those episodes, especially the blind ones.  I found that commentary enlightening.

Overall, Melissa's story is a bit more sterile than other, recent Little House memoirs, but it is also an interesting look at life on one of America's favorite television shows. 

Thanks to my local library for having a copy I could borrow.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 11/10

* * * 
3/5 Stars

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It's No Secret...Preview

About the book:
Are you tired of life as usual?
Done with feeling exhausted—or worse, bored? Ready to trade your issues and hang-ups for greater intimacy and fulfillment? Then it’s time you did some digging for biblical “bling” and discovered the secrets to life in God’s kingdom. Rachel’s writing is lighthearted and fun, but she’s serious about helping you uncover biblical secrets that can make your life shine. This book will help you:

  • Overcome the competitive urges that leave you lonely
  • Grow spiritually despite life's setbacks
  • Discover how to make what you give away ultimately return to you
  • View your need for rest not as a must but as a gift
  • Handle conflicts and criticism with grace
  • Relax unimportant or unrealistic expectations in favor of emotional stability
  • Find adventure as you yield whole-heartedly to God

Grab your Bible, a girlfriend, and come discover 12 secrets the world doesn't know that every woman should.


About the author:
Rachel Olsen is a writer, editor, and speaker on staff with Proverbs 31 Ministries. She writes for and serves as senior editor of their popular online devotions, “Encouragement for Today,” with a readership of more than 300,000. She also writes for and serves on the editorial board of the P31 Woman magazine. Olsen is a national women’s speaker and enjoys interacting with audiences at women’s retreats and conferences from coast to coast.

-----------------
Thanks to Karen at The B&B Media Group for the opportunity to preview this book.  You can learn more about Rachel Olson here and here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

City of Tranquil Light...Wildcard!

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:

Henry Holt and Co. (September 28, 2010
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Bo Caldwell’s short fiction has been published in Ploughshares, Story, Epoch, and other literary journals. Born in Oklahoma City in 1955, she grew up in Los Angeles and attended Stanford University, where she later held a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing and a Jones Lectureship in Creative Writing. She has received a fellowship in literature from the National Endowment for the Arts, an Artist Fellowship from the Arts Council of Santa Clara County, and the Joseph Henry Jackson Award from the San Francisco Foundation. Her personal essays have appeared in O Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, and America Magazine. Her first novel, The Distant Land of My Father, was one of The Los Angeles Times’ Best Books of 2001, and was selected for community reading programs in Pasadena, Santa Clara County, and Claremont. She lives in Northern California with her husband, the writer Ron Hansen.



Product Details:

List Price: $25.00
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (September 28, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805092285
ISBN-13: 978-0805092288

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Shepherd-Teacher

Suppose it is an autumn day, fine and clear and cool. Late afternoon, when the sun nears the horizon and turns the sky into a watercolor of pastels. It is beautiful, as though God is showing off. As you approach the city you first see its wall, an immense gray brick structure that is as solid as it is imposing, nearly as wide as it is high, some thirty feet. If you are coming from the east, it will be in sharp silhouette against the lovely changing sky. Near the city the air begins to smell of smoke, but mostly it has the sweet, clean scent of the ripening winter wheat in the surrounding fields.

From a distance the city may not look like much; only that dark wall is visible, and what can that tell you? Some say the cities in the North China Plain are by and large alike, one indistinguishable from another; to them this one might look like any other. But it is not; I can testify to this, for it is the place on this earth that I love the most, the city in which my wife and I lived for nearly twenty-five years among beggars and bandits and farmers and scholars and peasants, people whom we deeply loved. The name of the city is Kuang P'ing Ch'eng—City of Tranquil Light—and although I now reside in southern California and have for many years, that faraway place remains my home.

And it is often in my thoughts. Above my bed hang three Chinese scrolls depicting New Testament scenes, painted by our most improbable convert and given to me when we left China. In the first, the prodigal son kneels at his father's feet as the father rests his hands on the young man's head. The son's pigtail is disheveled and his blue peasant's tunic and trousers are dirty and torn, while the father's violet silk robe is immaculate. In the second, an oriental woman lovingly washes our Lord's feet with her tears and dries them with her long black hair, her own bound feet tucked beneath her, and in the third, a slight but sturdy Zacchaeus, wearing a gray scholar's robe and with his long braided queue hanging down his back, climbs a persimmon tree for a glimpse of Yeh-Su, Jesus. A Chinese lantern of bright red silk—red is the color of happiness—hangs over my writing table, and a small carved chest made of camphor wood holds my woolen sweaters. My Chinese New Testament, its spine soft and its pages worn, sits on the table by my reading chair, with a strip of faded red paper, a calling card given to me long ago, marking my place. I still read the Scriptures in Chinese; I find I am more at home in it than I am in English, just as my Chinese name, Kung P'ei Te, given to me at the beginning of this century, seems more a part of me than my legal name, Will Kiehn.

On my dresser is the photograph taken on our wedding day, November 4, 1908. Katherine and I were married at the American Consulate in Shanghai, and we are wearing Chinese clothes in the picture; our western clothes were too shabby for the occasion, and by then we had dressed in Chinese clothes for two years. Next to the photograph is my wife's diary, a thin volume I never read while she was alive but whose pages I now know by heart. Reading her sporadic entries is bittersweet, for while they bring our years together to life, they also show me my flaws and the ways in which I hurt her, unintentional though they were. But her pages make it seem that she is near, and if the price I pay for that closeness is regret it is a bargain still, albeit a painful one. I was her husband for over thirty-seven years, during which the longest we were apart was thirty-one days. She taught me the self-discipline I lacked, believed I was capable of far more than I did, and loved me as a young man as well as an old one. She was the one and only love of my life.

When I was twenty-one and on my way to China, I tried to envision my life there. I saw myself preaching to huge gatherings of people, baptizing eager new converts, working with my brothers in Christ to improve their lives. I did not foresee the hardships and dangers that lay ahead: the loss of one so precious, the slow and painful deprivation of drought and famine, the continual peril of violence, the devastation of war, the threat to my own dear wife. Again and again we were saved by the people we had come to help and carried through by the Lord we had come to serve. I am amazed at His faithfulness; even now our lives there fill me with awe.

Last week when I was sitting in the small reading room of the retirement home in which I live, a man selling Fuller brushes visited. It was a hot day, and the man was invited in for a glass of water. He looked to be about fifty years old. There were several of us in the reading room, and as the salesman approached and awkwardly began to show us his great variety of brushes—nailbrushes, hairbrushes, toothbrushes, scrub brushes, whisk brooms—I heard his difficulty with English, and because he was oriental I asked if he spoke the standard language, Mandarin. He nodded and I began to speak in our shared tongue, and when he asked my Chinese name and I gave it, he stared at me in wonder.

"Mu shih," he said urgently, Mandarin for shepherd-teacher—pastor—"you baptized me and took me into church fellowship when I was a young man. I am your son."

I am retired now, and while at the age of eighty-one I know this is as it must be, it is strange not to be involved in active ministry; gone are the responsibilities that filled my life for so many years. I continue my work by praying for those who still serve, which I am able to do as my mind is sound. My physical health is also good; my nephew, John, a medical doctor, keeps careful watch over me, and I am well taken care of in these years, measured and monitored as never before. My niece, Madeleine, and my great-nieces and -nephews and their children also visit, and I am doted on by these younger generations.

I am also in the good company of many who have placed the Great Commission foremost in their lives. I live at Glenwood Manor, a home for retired missionaries in Claremont, California, a small town some thirty miles east of Los Angeles. With its parades on the Fourth of July and Homecoming Weekend, its parks, and its tidy downtown, Claremont is wholesome and wholly American. From my room I look out on a small vegetable garden that thrives despite my come-and-go attention. Beyond the garden are the city's eucalyptus-lined streets, and beyond them citrus groves and the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and Mount Baldy. Each morning I walk to Memorial Park and the Public Library, and afterward I answer letters and read a daily Chinese newspaper and books to which I had no access during my years in China. Once a week I read a newspaper in German, the language of my parents and my childhood. At the start of the day when I read the Scriptures, I see truths I have never seen before, even after several decades of preaching the Gospel. And I dream of Chung-Kuo, the Middle Kingdom: China.

I am an ordinary man and an unlikely missionary. The talents I have been able to offer my Lord are small and few and far outnumbered by my faults. I am often slow in getting things done, and at times I exhibit a marked willingness to avoid work. I have never considered myself an intuitive person, and I am inexperienced in many of the ways of modern life. I have, for example, never learned how to drive—I gave up after twice failing the required test—and I know little about the world of finance. I am absentminded and I often misplace things, and while I struggle with pride, I am rarely angry. Nor am I greedy, for which I have my heritage to thank; I am the son and grandson of Mennonite farmers who came to America for religious freedom, and I was raised to aspire to a simple life of farming the land and following Christ. But despite my ordinariness and the smallness of my talents, I have led an extraordinary life. This is God's grace, His unearned favor.

When I was twelve years old, a missionary spoke at the small schoolhouse in Washita County, Oklahoma, where my three brothers and two sisters and I were taught weekdays for six months of the year. We spoke English at school, but at home and in church we still spoke the mother tongue, low German, though our parents had been in America for more than twenty years. German must be God's language, my uncle told me with great seriousness, because that's what the Bible was written in. He did not see the humor in this.

The missionary was from India and he said he was returning there the following month, which I found startling, for he was old and frail. He told our class that in foreign lands the need for those to share the Good News and to care for people's bodies and souls was great, and that a missionary could be a doctor in the mission field as long as he had a good strong brush and plenty of soap and water. "A missionary brings light to the darkness," he said. "We are called to go where there is little light, and where there are people in need of help."

It seemed he was speaking directly to me; my face grew hot and I felt a pull somewhere inside. At the end of class when the offering was taken, I gave all I had—the quarter I had earned for work on the farm, plus six pennies.

At that time, I had not yet been baptized. As Mennonites we believed that faith comes not as an inheritance but as a personal decision; it is a gift freely offered and up to each individual to accept. My parents worked hard to help their children be ready to receive that gift; my mother knelt and prayed with us each morning, and in the evening my father read to us from Scripture. I was taught that faith should be apparent in every area of one's life, and I saw evidence of my parents' faith in their actions. They shared what they had with those who had less, they never turned a stranger away, and they showed me that loving our neighbor often meant feeding and clothing him, even if that involved less comfort for us. These things were as much a given in our home as taking your hat off when you were spoken to.

While faith was not my inheritance, it was my heritage. My German ancestors were people who lived apart from the world and much to themselves in Prussia, preferring not to unite with the state and its church. They wanted no part in government affairs and refused to take up firearms, for doing so would violate the commandment Thou shalt not kill. Czarina Catherine II of Russia, hearing that the community was skilled in building dikes, offered its members a deal: she would give them large tracts of virgin farmland in Polish Russia and the freedom to practice their beliefs, in return for which the people would improve the land.

Mennonites believe in the dignity of labor, and they accepted Catherine's offer. Six thousand souls left Prussia for Polish Russia, where they built their own churches and schools and were exempted from military service. They were allowed to substitute an affirmation for an oath—swearing of any kind was forbidden by God—and they were allowed to bury their own dead. They began to work the swampland along the Vistula River, where they built dikes high enough to keep the river's overflow from the lowlands, eventually transforming vast expanses of swampland into thousands of acres of wheat. They continued to speak German and they thrived for many years.

Until 1873, when Alexander II, Catherine's great-grandson, revoked their special privileges, causing the community to look once more for a place where they would be free of the demands of an aristocratic government. The United States seemed to be the answer; its Constitution promised equal rights to all, and Congress had passed a bill that excused conscientious objectors from bearing arms. The community sent a delegation to America to spy out the land, and they returned with good news: fertile farmland could be had for very little, and the state of Kansas exempted Mennonites from military service. The Santa Fe railroad sent an agent to Russia to offer free transportation on a chartered steamer.

Thus in October of 1874, after selling their land for a fraction of its value, it was to America that everyone went. With their families and friends, my parents traveled by rail to Antwerp and from there to New York on the Netherland. The group settled in Kansas, but my parents soon found that their one-hundred-and-sixty-acre farm was too small to support a family of six. In 1885, the year I was born, they traveled to the western part of Oklahoma territory and leased a section of land that had never been cultivated.

Again and again, my ancestors said yes to God, and as I grew I saw those around me say yes as well. Over the months then years I watched one person after another in our community walk forward at Sunday services. At times I looked wistfully, even enviously, at the new church members and wished that I, too, could say the words, could produce the faith. But I could not; I was suspicious of God and was afraid that, if I said yes to Him, He would change me in ways I would not like and ask of me things I did not want to do. I thought of the visiting missionary, and of what I had felt as he spoke. What if God should ask me to leave home? That I could never do. So I tolerated the restlessness that dwelt in my heart and decided that faith could wait.

Which it did, for four years, until early one morning in late summer when I was in the fields. I was sixteen years old and farming was what I loved. I knew how to prepare seedbeds, plow the fields, plant and tend our crops, and harvest wheat and fruit at the optimal time, and I felt a deep satisfaction in watching things grow. Our property was bound by a creek to the north and a line of dogwood trees to the south, with the Washita River running through the center of our land. To the south of the river we grew wheat and to the north was grassland for cattle, with orchards on either side. We harvested more grain and fruit than we could haul to market, and nearly everything on our table came from our farm: cheese and sausage, bread and eggs and jam, apples and peaches and corn.

That morning I fell to my knees behind the plow to pray before I began the day's work, just as I did every morning, for while I was unable to surrender myself to God, I was equally unable to turn my back on Him, and I could not discard my habit of cautious prayer. The day was already hot and the sun warmed my back as I knelt in the cool red dirt and thanked God for my life and asked Him to help me plow a straight line.

I was about to stand when something stopped me. It was the quiet, a deep calm that I did not want to leave or disturb. I stayed very still, and as I gazed out at the wide expanse of rich red earth, my mind and heart grew still as well. I felt a Presence that seemed to surround me and pursue me at the same time, a Presence that I knew was God, and I had the sense that I was deeply loved and cared for. I had been told of this love since I was small, but on that morning it seemed to move from my head into my heart; knowledge became belief. As I remained kneeling in the red soil, it seemed that the gift of faith was being offered to me. I whispered, "Help me to believe," and a feeling of great relief came over me as I realized how I had been longing for enough faith to give myself over. From somewhere inside I felt a yes, and an unfamiliar peace replaced the restlessness in my soul.

Two weeks later, I gave my testimony at our meetinghouse. As I looked out at the congregation, my face grew hot and my voice trembled and I felt myself perspire, but I persevered. Four Sundays later, with our congregation gathered around me, I walked into the clear rushing water of the Washita River. As I knelt, our pastor cupped his hands behind my head and I lay back in the water and felt it rush over me. Then I was up, gasping and wet and cold, and I felt new.

When I finished school three years later, my father sent me to the Gemeinde Schule—community school—a small Bible academy established by the church in nearby Corn, Oklahoma. The younger members of our church community were trained to take on the work of the older ones; my father hoped that when I finished at the academy I would attend the church's Bible College in Hutchinson, Kansas, then return home to become superintendent of our Sunday school.

But that is not what happened. On a Saturday afternoon in late summer of 1906, a few weeks before I was to leave for Kansas, we had a visitor. His name was Edward Geisler, and he and my father greeted each other with a holy kiss, the custom among members of our faith. He was nearly family, my father said; Edward had left Russia in the same group as our family, and he had given himself to God's service. He had traveled to China in 1901 with five other young volunteers as part of the South Chihli Mission, and a few years later he and his wife and another Mennonite, the first Mennonite missionaries in China, had formed the China Mennonite Missionary Society. Now he had come home from China's interior to seek an increase in support for their work and to take new recruits back with him to China. "Our friend is following the Great Commission," my father said. " 'Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Gospel to all creation.' "

The next morning Edward spoke at our church. What God asked of us, he said, was nothing less than absolute surrender. "The Gospel tells us this clearly: 'Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.' The question we must ask ourselves is, What are we holding back? What is it that we will not give up?"

I felt found out, as thoroughly convicted as if Edward had addressed me by name. Something tightened in my center, a tense feeling that stayed with me the rest of the day, and at dinner that night I did not speak. My mother asked if I was ill and whether I wanted to leave the table. A part of me did, but I stayed where I was.

I was sitting next to Edward, who seemed to single me out from my siblings. He asked me kindly about school and farming and my baptism, and he said he could see that I loved God and that my faith would bless me all my life. I said no more than what was required, not because I disliked Edward but because I was so drawn to him. He was tall and thin and awkward and not handsome—unexceptional, like me, I thought—but when he spoke of China, I could not look away.

He talked of Keng-Tze Nien, the Boxer Year six years earlier when thousands of Chinese Christians and 186 missionaries and their children had been murdered for following Christ by members of the secret Society of Righteous Harmonious Fists. But Christ's message would not be stopped, Edward said; the people's needs were too immense. They suffered from ignorance about hygiene and lack of medical care. Many infants died at birth, and fewer than half of those who lived survived to their first birthday. Mothers fed their children rat feces to cure them of stomach ailments, men applied the bile from the gallbladders of bears to heal their children's eyes, and opium addicts and beggars slept in the streets.

Yet Edward made no capital of what he had seen. "The suffering is great, as is the need for help, physical and spiritual." He paused, and his expression softened. "But the rewards are also great. The people are the kindest and most generous I have known. They are wise in many ways, and there is much to learn from them and to admire. They have the right to hear the Gospel."

Toward the end of the meal, Edward turned to me. "I return to China in a few weeks. My wife is there, caring for our children and carrying on our work. We need helpers, for the harvest is great, the laborers few. Why don't you come with me, Will? The Chinese language is difficult, but far easier when you are young. Perhaps this is your calling."

I saw my siblings trying to stifle their laughter. Of all our family, I was the least likely to leave. I wasn't good at speaking in front of people; I became nervous and I stammered. I was quiet and shy, I wasn't a good student, and I disliked being away from home.

"I'm needed here," I said, my voice cracking. "I haven't any training or gifts of that kind."

Edward said, "The Giver of those gifts may feel otherwise," and he looked at me, his blue eyes bright. "A torch's one qualification is that it be fitted to the master's hand. God's chosen are often not talented or wise or gifted as the world judges. Our Lord sees what is inside"—Edward touched his chest—"and that is why He calls whom He does." Then he turned to my father and they began to talk about wheat.

In the morning Edward left to visit other churches; he would return in a week. During those days I struggled, for while I felt pulled toward Edward's work, the idea seemed too foolish to even consider. I couldn't imagine leaving home; I suspected I was unfit for anything but farming, and I thought surely God would want me to remain where I had been planted. I decided I was being proud to think I might be remotely capable of meeting the challenges that must face a man like Edward every day, for in the few years that had passed since I joined the church, I did not feel I had made much progress spiritually. I yearned to walk more closely with God, and while I did experience moments of joy, they were often followed by days of despair. I told myself that surely God would not ask me to do work that was so clearly beyond me, and I fervently prayed that China was not my calling.

The night before Edward was to return, I woke suddenly in the night. When I couldn't fall back to sleep, I crept out of bed and down the ladder that led from the attic bedroom I shared with my brothers. I sat down at the table my father had made from the elm trees that edged our land, and for a while I just listened to the nighttime sounds of our home—the even rhythm of my father's snoring in the next room, the soft rush of the wind outside, the neat ticking of the kitchen clock—sounds as familiar as my own heartbeat.

As I sat there, I suddenly knew I would go to China. The realization was as simple and definite as the plunk of a small stone in the deep well of my soul, and despite the fact that it would mean leaving what I loved most in the world, I felt not the sadness and dread I had expected but a sense of freedom and release. The tightness in me loosened like cut cord, and I was joyful.

The next morning I stood nervously in our kitchen, my hands gripping the rough wood that framed the door, as I waited to tell my father of my decision. I was worried about his reaction; I expected disappointment and anger and dreaded them equally. I had not disobeyed my parents since I was a small boy, and the thought that God might ask me to do so now made my heart clench.

I saw my father coming toward me from the chicken house. He had barely entered the yard before I hurried to meet him.

"I have something to tell you," I said. "I feel that God is calling me to serve Him in China. I know it makes no sense; I know I'm unqualified and I'm needed here and my decision must seem all wrong to you. But yes seems the only answer I can give."

I had braced myself for my father's objections, but none came. He stared at me without speaking for a long moment; then he put his arms around me and embraced me tightly. "Will," he said, "you have chosen the better part. How could I refuse you?"

Edward was to leave for Seattle from his family's home in French Creek near Hillsboro, Kansas, in two weeks. My parents went with me to the farewell meeting, which was held at the home of fellow Mennonites, where, with the friends and relatives who were able to join us, Edward, myself, and three other recruits sat outside at rough tables and benches under shade trees while Edward read Scripture and prayed for us and led us in the four-part singing of a few hymns. A few of the group gave their testimonies; then we shared a fellowship meal, and our families and friends wished us well.

At the end of the meeting, my mother took me aside. "Will, do you have money to travel?"

I felt instantly foolish and ashamed, for I hadn't even thought about money; I had somehow thought Edward would take care of it. Out of pride and embarrassment, I said, "I hadn't worked it out. Edward invited me. He'll pay the bills."

My mother shook her head. "Here," she said, and she took my hand and pressed a roll of bills into it, more money than I had ever seen. She smiled at my amazement. "It's my inheritance from my parents, two hundred dollars. Edward says it will cover the train to Seattle and the steamship across the ocean." She held me close for moment. Then she said, "My sweet boy—I will miss you more than you know."

At the railway station, my parents and I stood together awkwardly. When it was time to board, my heart pounded and I suddenly wanted to change my mind; it seemed that doing something right shouldn't hurt so much. But the conductor called out and waved his small flag, and I knew I had to go.

I embraced my mother and father a last time. None of us could speak. I walked to the train and climbed aboard, then hurried back to the last car and watched my parents until I could no longer make them out in the distance; even my father waving his broad-brimmed felt hat was gone. I worked at committing this last sight of them to memory, so I could call it up at will, and I tried to console myself with the idea that I would return in five years. But it did not ease the ache in my chest.

My mother had never sent me off anywhere without food, and this departure was no exception. Packed in a small basket were homemade sausage and biscuits, apples from our orchard, spice cake, and tea, all of which I shared with Edward and the three other recruits, whom I found intimidating, for at twenty-one I knew I was the youngest and least experienced. Jacob and Agnes Schmidt were a married couple who had met at the Salvation Army, and Ruth Ehren was a deaconess, which meant, Edward explained, that she had completed a two-year nurse's training program at an orphanage and hospital in Berne, Indiana, so that she could devote herself to the care of the poor and sick. The long black dress and black bonnet she wore signified her training and position. A fourth recruit, another deaconess, would join us in Seattle.

After three days on the train we reached Seattle, where we would spend our last night in America with friends of Edward's. At the railway station Edward asked me to stay with the luggage while he took the others to our hosts' home. While I was sitting on the trunks, a young woman passed by. She wore the same type of black dress and bonnet that Ruth did, and when Edward returned for me, he brought this young woman with him and introduced her as Katherine Friesen, from the Deaconess Hospital in Cleveland. "She's also my wife's sister," Edward added, and I heard the pride in his voice. She smiled fondly at him but seemed to ignore me, which was fine by me, for I could not speak. Although slight, she was so sure of herself and so imposing in her black dress that I was in awe of her from the start.

October 3, 1906

I am far away from home tonight, the farthest I have ever been, sitting in the comfortable parlor in the home of strangers in a rainy city I do not know on the edge of this continent. Tomorrow at this time I will be even farther away, miles out to sea—I, Katherine Friesen, who have spent my life in the middle of this country with not so much as a glimpse of the ocean, will be in the middle of it! I have surprised myself this evening, for while I thought I would be anxious or afraid, I am neither. Although I love my family and will miss them, and although I have no idea what to expect of the days, weeks, and months ahead, here is my secret: I am happy. My heart beats strangely; I feel more like I am returning home than leaving it.

These giddy feelings seem wrong. Shouldn't a good daughter, a good sister, a good deaconess, be ambivalent about leaving home? But I'm not, which amazes me. I'm amazed that I've made it to Seattle, amazed at my good health, amazed that one obstacle after another concerning money and the details of the journey has been overcome. Here I am, sitting at this cherrywood table by a warm fire, "en route to the Far East," as our hosts put it; how glamorous it sounds!

The other recruits don't seem to share my high spirits; they already look homesick. The married couple appears to be aware only of each other; I haven't seen them more than two feet apart all evening. Young love, I suppose. Ruth Ehren, the other deaconess, is as somber as if our journey were a punishment. She's what people often envision when they hear the word missionary—a serious soul who travels to faraway lands to turn heathens into Westerners. I don't understand her; being morose seems like such a loss.

Then there is Will Kiehn, who strikes me as awkward and dreamy, but Edward certainly sees something in him; his strong encouragement is the reason Will is going to China. I can see that Edward loves this clumsy boy, for he already favors him every chance he gets; tonight at dinner he passed Will extra crescent rolls (the boy seemed ravenous—I kept wanting to ask if anyone had been feeding him) and afterward he made sure Will wrote a letter to his parents. Edward says Will reminds him of his younger self, that when he talked to Will about China, Will's expression of wonder mirrored his own feelings when he was starting out. That's how I felt too when I began to sense the idea of China in my soul, a kind of irrational certainty that I would go, even though it made no sense. Edward says that when Will told him of his decision to go with him to China he felt a bounce of joy inside; he was certain he'd met a like-minded soul. This is high praise, for while my brother-in-law can be impetuous and unorthodox in his ways, he is as wise as he is kind, which makes me believe there must be more to this Will than I see. Perhaps he isn't as bothersome as he seems.

Edward's excitement is a dramatic contrast to the somber mood of the others. His eyes are bright as he talks of leaving in the morning, and I see the energy in his step and his movements, as though this tidy home in which we are guests constrains him. Of course he really is returning home—to Naomi and the boys and the new baby, all of whom I'm eager to see—so there is reason for his joy. But I think it is more than a homecoming. He is excited about the work.

As am I. I have no idea what this life will be like, nor can I guess whether I'll be gone for five years or fifty. I know only that I am happy—in my heart and mind and soul and even my body, which feels strong and sturdy and healthy. I'm weary too, but I don't mind the fatigue; I am on my way to China, and that is enough.

Early the next morning we left for the Seattle docks and for the S.S. Minnesota, which was to depart shortly before noon. Edward settled us on board then went to secondhand stores to purchase a few last supplies he knew he couldn't get in China. Noon came and he hadn't returned, a problem because he had the tickets. The whistle blew once, then a second time, and finally Edward came charging up the gangplank, awkwardly carrying a load of folding chairs he'd bought at what he excitedly said was a most reasonable price.

The thick ropes tethering the ship to the dock were untied and we were under way. I stayed on deck, and in my mind I said goodbye to my family once again as I watched Seattle and America recede.

Edward joined me, and for a while we were silent. Then he said, "Perhaps it's time to learn your first Mandarin phrase."

I was immediately anxious; I did not feel at all up to tackling a new language. But when he spoke again, I was so drawn to the sound of what he said that I couldn't help asking its meaning.

He smiled and repeated it. "Tsaichien mei-kuo," he said. "Tsaichien is goodbye, mei is beautiful, kuo is country. That's the name for America: Beautiful Country."

I tried to repeat it. Then I asked him the word for China.

"Chung-Kuo," he said. "It means Middle Kingdom, because of the people's ancient belief that their country was at the center of a vast square earth, surrounded by the Four Seas, beyond which lay islands inhabited by barbarians. That's us." Edward turned and faced the front of the ship, and the expanse of ocean spread before us, so that America was behind us. "The strange part," he said softly, "is that after you've been there for a while, it truly does feel like the center of the world. It becomes a place you never want to leave."

I nodded, willing to be convinced. For at that moment, despite the homesickness that had accompanied me like a stowaway since I'd left home, I had a dim hope that, given time, I might come to feel the same.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Christmas Chronicles...Review

About the book:
In this new holiday classic, Tim Slover crafts a marvelous, magical novel about how Santa Claus became the man he is today. After reading The Christmas Chronicles, you’ll believe all over again in the magic of the season.

Snow is falling, and the clock ticks toward midnight on Christmas Eve while countless children, too excited to sleep, anticipate the arrival of Santa Claus. But in Tim Slover’s deeply charming and utterly thrilling new novel, that’s the end rather than the beginning of the story. In this richly imagined tale of Santa’s origins, the man in full finally emerges. The Christmas Chronicles is at once an action-packed adventure, an inspiring story of commitment and faith, and a moving love story.

It all starts in 1343, when the child Klaus is orphaned and adopted by a craftsmen’s guild. The boy will grow to become a master woodworker with an infectious laugh and an unparalleled gift for making toys. His talent and generosity uniquely equip him to bestow hundreds of gifts on children at Christmas—and to court the delightful Anna, who enters his life on a sleigh driven by the reindeer Dasher and becomes his beloved wife.

Still, all is not snowfall and presents. Klaus will be shadowed by the envious Rolf Eckhof, who will stop at nothing to subvert him. But in the end, Santa’s magic is at last unleashed, flying reindeer come to his aid, and an epic battle between good and evil is waged in the frosty Christmas skies.

By turns enchanting, hair-raising, and inspirational, The Christmas Chronicles is a beguiling tale destined to become a holiday favorite for the ages.

Wow, and wow! I collect Christmas books and each year I get one or two new ones. This one is definitely going to become one of my favorites.

Tim Slover has taken the legend of Santa Claus and made it wonderful and believable. There are magical elements which are absolutely necessary when writing about Christmas and Santa Claus, but there are also Christian elements and references to the birth of Jesus Christ, which is why we celebrate Christmas. These elements are woven together seamlessly.

Klaus' story is charming. In his and Anna's relationship, we see a strong, committed marriage. Their love for the children of the world and their love and belief in Christmas is tangible. There are some deeper elements that make an adult/YA Christmas story, rather than a children's book. However, it's also a story about good vs. evil, and it's a story about charity and love.

Definitely recommended. 


Thanks to Cheryl from Pump Up Your Book Promotion for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Tim Slover here.  You can see more tour stops and reviews here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 12/10

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5/5 Stars