Sunday, April 20, 2014

An Easter Afternoon Tea

Left to right: my sister Caitlin, mom Tammy, and me (probably the first time most of you have seen me)

I realized that it's been months since I last posted about Afternoon Tea, probably because it's been months since we've really done one on a major scale. I figured there was no better time than Easter to enjoy a lovely tea so this morning we went all out with the preparations.

So, my darlings, Happy Easter, and prepare yourself to enjoy the goodies I have for you today!

On the Menu

Spiral-Sliced Ham
Cream Scones
Mini Salmon Quiche
Brie and Baguette Wheel
Sauteed Mini Squash

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Lesson on Transformation from Gandalf and Will Graham

With this being Holy Week, my thoughts have been focused on transformation for the last several days. Christians undergo a transformation when we're saved. Christ himself underwent a transformation on Resurrection Day, suddenly no longer confined by a physical body and its limitations. Transformation is something that everyone on earth undergoes at some point or another. A tipping point, as it were, from evil to good or from good to evil. Literature itself is ripe with the concept.

Think of Gandalf the Grey transforming into Gandalf the White. Gandalf the Grey is impressive in his own right, but he is viewed by many, hobbits especially, as harmless. He is merely an old wizard who specializes in magic tricks. Gandalf the White is something else entirely. He has metamorphosed into a pure version of himself, the version of Gandalf that was always just below the surface but needed death and resurrection to be released.

I've always been partial to Gandalf the Grey, probably because he's kick-ass tough and abounding with sarcasm. But I also appreciate the wisdom of Gandalf the White, who was only born out of sacrifice and death. Gandalf the White is the full interpretation of Gandalf. People who focus only on either Grey or White are missing Gandalf's journey, and thereby missing his point. He is the perfect example in literature of transformation from someone being merely a neutral color to being perfect purity. He is symbolic of Christ's transformation. Whatever else Peter Jackson might have done to Tolkien's work, he got Gandalf right, and for that I will always love him.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review: Caught in the Middle by Regina Jennings (2014)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anne Tillerton, a buffalo hunter who wears men's clothes, finds herself tracking down a runaway cook to Garber, Texas, successfully thwarting a train robbery/murder in the process. What she didn't expect is that she would actually know the man she saved from a lifetime ago. Or that she would end up caring for the cook, Tessa's infant son when she heads off into the great-unknown with her latest paramour. Anne is stuck with a baby in a strange town and the only chance for a job comes from Nick Lovelace, the man from the train, who would like it very much if she would please consider wearing a dress to the office. Anne's life isn't easy, at least compared with Nick's, but if there is one thing Anne does well it's make other people think outside their comfort zone. And Nick finds himself questioning his motivations. He builds railroads, yes, but how far is he willing to bend his conscience to please his only employer? Will Anne's influence finally help Nick realize that there's more to life than money and tat he can make a living in other ways that don't include kowtowing to corruption? And what about Anne? Can she be tamed and her heart mended from the heartbreak and abuse she's suffered in a past she would rather forget?

I already knew I liked Regina Jennings' style of writing when I read her novella in A Match Made in Texas. I mean, out of the 4 authors included in that collection, Ms. Jennings' characters were the ones I loved the most. When the opportunity came along to review one of her full-length novels, I jumped at the chance, and she completely lived up to my expectations and then some.

Give me a heroine who is more than fluffy skirts and biblical proverbs spouted at inopportune times and I'm a happy woman. I need meat in my historic romance, something very few authors are able to fully provide, so that sets Ms. Jennings a little higher than most in my estimation.

Anne Tillerton is not your average prairie fiction female. She's tough as leather, clad in it too, and she wears her independence as proudly as she wears her revolver. But she's more than a woman who's more masculine than feminine. She's a woman who has suffered through very little fault of her own. The face she presents to the world is a way of protecting herself. She doesn't want men to look at her and she doesn't dress to impress. A combination of things drew me to Anne. First, she's spunky. Some writers add too much spunk or not enough, but Anne's spunk was just right. Second, she's more than her appearance suggests. Like most women, her heart yearns for love and acceptance, for protection, and for motherhood. Anne is the perfect heroine because she's a mixture of ideal woman and hurting, abused soul. She's real.

Connecting to Nick Lovelace was harder because his goal, at least in the beginning, is money. He wants financial solvency, and while there's nothing wrong with that, sometimes the Lord has other things in mind, like sacrifice and suffering. Yes, Christians are called to suffer for their faith, for standing on their principles. Nick is called upon to do so, and he discovers that he possesses a greater strength of character than he imagined. Nick starts out as the type of man I would consider self-absorbed and then has his horizons broadened by circumstances and the Lord's leading. Not a perfect hero, by far, but, like Anne, a realistic one. Because no one is perfect.

Ms. Jennings, like many of the authors I'm reading now, is fairly new to Christian fiction. And for my own selfish sake, I hope she sticks around for a good many years to come. It's possible that I only loved Caught in the Middle because I identify with the heroine. Sometimes I like an author, but don't always like every book they've ever written. But Caught in the Middle is a real winner with me and I can hardly wait to try my hand at another of her delectable books.

- I received this book free of charge from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

View all my reviews

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Book Review: A Broken Kind of Beautiful by Katie Ganshert (2014)

Katie Ganshert's newest novel, A Broken Kind of Beautiful hits stores on April 15th, 2014.

Author's Website 
Read Chapter One 

It is the story of Ivy Clark, a ravishingly beautiful young woman of a hard upbringing. She is the daughter of an adulterer and his mistress, and the one thing she always wanted but could never attain was her father's love. Not even the affection lavishing on her every summer by her father's wife, Marilyn, could make the ache go away. He didn't want her. Never wanted her. So, when the opportunity arises for her to start modeling with her father's brother, Bruce, as her agent, she takes it. Her mother is dead and apart from foster homes, she has little choice, entering the world of modeling as a young teenager and never looking back. She learns the walk, the talk, and puts every ounce of her womanhood to use in manipulating men and making a name for herself in the modeling community.

But now Ivy is getting old. She's nearly 25, a death knell in the modeling business. Her career is ebbing, and Ivy clutches desperately at ways to recover and attain the type of notoriety that would assure her job even as she ages. But it's not working and finally Ivy has only one job offer, from her father's wife Marilyn, to come model a photo shoot of wedding dresses from Marilyn's bridal shop, Something New. The last thing Ivy wants is to return to small-town Americana where all she remembers is the hurt of her father's indifference, a man now dead without ever reconciling with his daughter. She has no choice.

Perhaps it is the loving atmosphere that Marilyn exudes that starts to soften Ivy's heart. Then again there's Davis, Marilyn's nephew and no blood relation to Ivy, whose determination to not be seduced tilts her entire world on an angle. A man who treats her like a lady and refuses to take advantage? All Ivy knows is that she is now caught between two worlds. The world of modeling that no longer wants her, or a life that includes Marilyn, a woman who has always loved her, and Davis, a man who is nearly as broken as Ivy herself. Fortunately for all involved, God is still in the business of healing the brokenhearted.

Modeling was never on my childhood radar. My life included climbing the tallest tree in the backyard so I could see the ocean over the house, helping my dad dismantle the family car when it started wheezing, and fishing on the weekend. That was my life. So, connecting with a character like Ivy Clark is nearly impossible. I grieve for her and ache for the pain she's gone through, but it is a distant grief because I have never experienced anything even remotely similar. If anything, Ivy's story reminds me of little Jon-Benet Ramsey, a child beauty pageant queen who was murdered when I was still pretty much a child myself. That little girl's photo was splashed across magazines and newspapers for months, even years, calling for justice in her slaying, a justice that never came. Every time I look at that perfect face I always wonder how her parents could steal her childhood from her like that. I'm not talking about murder, but about forcing her into beauty competitions. It's an ugly, ugly world, so when I read the story of Ivy Clark, I though of poor Jon-Benet. Life is nasty in that world and I wouldn't wish that existence on anyone.

The one thing in the book I didn't really like is the ending. It felt rushed and a little too symbolic for my taste. When heroines need to make a change of heart and mind, they need to do it on their own. Not have the decision foisted on them because there is no other option. Ivy was backed up against a wall. The ending felt too easy, which is probably crazy since it is a painful conclusion (yes, there is still a happy ending). But the end really did feel like the author didn't know where else to take the story so she figured this would be a good option of getting Ivy out of that life. By forcing her through circumstances. Like I said, it felt too easy, but oh well.

Even though my own life experiences are nothing like Ivy's, I know her story will move many, many readers. Ms. Ganshert is a fairly new author on the Christian scene, and she has a distinctive voice that will garner a loyal readership following. Her stories aren't mundane or simple. They handle the dirty and agonizing real-life heartbreak that happens all the time. A Broken Kind of Beautiful is still a winner even though I never fully connected with either Ivy or Davis.

- I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Book Review: Life Support (Grace Medical #3) by Candace Calvert

Life Support by Candace Calvert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Readers familiar with the series have already met the affectionate Lauren Barclay in Rescue Team, the 2nd book in the Grace Medical series by Candace Calvert. Lauren always puts other people's needs before her own, to the detriment of her own relationships and happiness. It is a part of her genetic makeup, and it is strongest when troubles pop up in the life of her younger sister, Jessica. When Lauren's parents need her to keep an eye on Jess while they head off to Colorado for family business, Laurence has little choice. She leaves Austen for Houston and takes up residence at Houston Grace Medical. Between the jitters she gets whenever she encounters Eli Landry, local PA and friend to Jessica, and the constricting fear that Jessica might have one of her extreme "lows," Lauren is torn more ways than she can count. Especially when Eli starts sneaking his way into her heart, not hard to do since he's a loving and capable man in possession of an adorable daughter, Emma, and blind Newfoundland, Shrek. Lauren and Eli butt heads over care of disabled individuals since Lauren is an enabler and Eli wishes, for all the world, that the older, disabled brother he loves so much could be permitted to die if the time came. The two learn to cope together, Lauren discovering that enabling Jess is not the answer, and Eli realizing that there is always hope where his brother is concerned.

For Christian fans of medical dramas, this book series, and this author, will really hit the spot. I connected better to the characters in Life Support than I did to Kate and Wes in Rescue Team, probably because I suspect Lauren of being an ISFJ (we can be enablers), and that I understand her need to protect a younger sister. Lauren is a good reminder that Christians aren't perfect and that, no matter how sincere in our faith we might be, we will still make mistakes and wrong choices. Lauren is prone to it because she thinks she's protecting someone when she's really doing damage by not addressing the elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss. She realizes this by the end of the book, thank goodness, but the journey from point A to point B was fascinating.

Eli is an excellent male lead because he is logical and prefers to not let his emotions run his life. Except where his daughter is concerned, naturally, and he is an excellent father. I'm not sure what part was my favorite, his sheepishly telling Lauren that she is his music (Phantom of the Opera much?) or when he and Lauren are snookered into dressing like pirates for a party Emma, in full Elizabeth Swann attire, must attend. Both scenes were awesome, but I think the Jack Sparrow references really clinched the story for me, and my liking of Eli.

I don't know what it's like to live with a handicapped individual. But I do know what it's like to live with someone who suffers from clinical depression. Jessica's problem is bipolar disorder, caused by a chemical imbalance, just like clinical depression. And just like many Christians, Lauren and her parents are convinced that bipolar disorder can be beat with just prayer. Nope, I'm sorry, it doesn't work that way. Medication is there for a reason, and the worst thing in the world a pastor can tell a Christian suffering from a chemical imbalance is that they aren't praying enough or that they don't have enough faith. So, I was pleased with the outcome of this book because it gives a solid wake-up call to those Christians who think that people who suffer from depression or bipolar disorder are somehow in sin. That's not the way it works, and it certainly isn't biblical. There is no sin in taking medication for a chemical imbalance, and I was so happy that was Candace Calvert's conclusion.

Ms. Calvert always offers a solid story of realism in the life of medical personnel, a world in which I have absolutely no familiarity. Her characters feel real, their situations convincing, and the world in which they live compelling. Once again Ms. Calvert has written a winner, and I hope that she will continue to be a steadfast voice for medical drama in Christian fiction.

- I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.