Sacred Slow

REVIEW: The Sacred Slow by Alicia Britt Chole

“A holy departure from fast faith.” That is the sub-title for The Sacred Slow, new from Thomas Nelson Publishers.

“Fast faith” is defined on page 4 as “a restless spirituality that often craves what is new and what is next in the recycled hope that the latest ‘it’ can satisfy an ache that can only be described as timeless.” The material is broken into 12 sections, and the content within each can be completed in a week. Readers who really want to embrace the “sacred slow” could work through one experience a week, stretching the content through one full year, really digging deeply into each experience.

Every experience has a reading and a “guided response.” The reader can decide to complete a guided response that is internal (thought-based) or external (an exercise or action step to complete). Obviously, you can also do both, especially if you are working through one per week. The author suggests just choosing one based on your time and opportunities. Exercises sometimes build on what was completed on an earlier step. For example, the first several exercises walk the reader through the completion of a “Life Scroll,” a worksheet included in the book.

The book includes a facilitator’s guide, a blank Life Scroll, and some personal inventory pages. The exercises are intended to be done prayerfully, listening for God’s input throughout the process. If you walk through these steps in your own mind and power, you will miss the point.

This would make a great study for an individual or for a group. I love the idea of one exercise per week to really take the material in slowly and dig deeply into what God would say to you through each one. With a new year almost here, this would be an fantastic resource to add to your quiet time in 2018.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishers and the folks at Handlebar for a review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Walking With Miss Millie

REVIEW: Walking with Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy

Summary


Alice does not want to be in Rainbow, Georgia. She wants to go home to Columbus, Ohio. How will her dad, who “hates” Rainbow, ever come back to them if they aren’t there?

But Alice’s grandmother is having memory issues. She needs help, so Alice and her mom and brother are in Rainbow for the foreseeable future.

Georgia in June, 1968, means hot and humid weather, “party” phone lines and racial tension. When Alice accidentally eavesdrops on her grandmother’s neighbor, Miss Millie, on the party line, she has to go apologize. That leads to daily walks with Miss Millie and her dog, Clarence. What starts as a burden becomes something Alice looks forward to as she gets to know their elderly African-American neighbor. And their talks help Alice learn some things about herself along the way.

Review


This story was perfection. The heart was present from page one. Alice is an earnest, thoughtful character. Like any good 10-year-old, she jumps to conclusions about folks at times, but she’s also teachable and honest. Miss Millie is wise. And the author does a terrific job of “showing” rather than telling how Miss Millie feels and what she thinks but doesn’t say. The entire cast of characters is fantastic, and I quickly fell in love with them.

The story centers on Alice and the move to Rainbow as well as what that move means to her relationship with her absent father. But it’s also about the evolution of race relations from the late 1800s to 1968. It’s about family and loss and faith. I cried several times in the story as the emotional pieces are pitched perfectly for the characters. I can’t recommend this highly enough!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Not Now Not Ever

REVIEW: Not Now, Not Ever by Lily Anderson

Summary


Elliot Lawrence Gabaroche is expected to go to either the Air Force Academy (like the Lawrence part of the family) or go into Law like her dad (which means attending a summer mock trial camp).

But “Ever” Lawrence has been accepted to Camp Onward, a camp for genius students where she hopes to win a scholarship to Rayevich College so she can join their science fiction literature program.

While everyone thinks Ellie is doing what THEY want her to do, she hops a train to Oregon as Ever to pursue her own plans for the future.

Ever doesn’t count on her annoying cousin, Isaiah, showing up at the same camp. They have to pretend to be twins so no one at the camp catches on to their secrets – her real name, his real age, and the fact that neither set of parents knows where they are. If their parents find out, both kids will lose their chance at the scholarship and setting their own course for the future. Ever also doesn’t count on meeting a great guy, making terrific friends, or stumbling into a mystery.

Review


This was excellent! The voice was outstanding. Ever is smart and sharp and so funny. I was truly sad when the book ended and there was no more Ever.

This is the second book published by the author, Lily Anderson, and I have loved both of them. The writing is fantastic. Lots of great voice and terrific humor. Anderson is an author I will put on a “must buy” list because I really enjoy her style.

The cast of characters is quirky and fun. The interplay between the kids on Ever’s team was a hoot. There were lots of great geeky moments. I kept reading passages aloud to my family because I was enjoying the book so much. The scene where the team gets together for the first time, and the counselors give them a taste of what is to come, is one of my favorites.

I loved Ever’s quest for her own path while feeling pressure and expectations from her whole family. The camp scholarship contest was a great plot – it brought interesting characters together and threw in some nice twists and a little mystery. Everything clicked perfectly for me in this book. (Some language)

Many, many thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press/Wednesday Books for an electronic review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Reading this book was a delight!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Much Ado About Murder

REVIEW: Much Ado About Murder by Elizabeth J. Duncan

Summary


Charlotte Fairfax is the costume designer for the Catskills Shakespeare Theater Company. As the company prepares to stage Much Ado About Nothing, many things at the resort/theater are shaking things up.

Their star, Audrey Ashley, has arrived from England with her sister/manager in tow. The director, who left town for personal reasons, decides suddenly not to return. The theater board tries to hire Wade Radcliffe, a local director, to replace him. But Miss Ashley, as the star, has veto power. She instead calls in Edmund Albright. In a surprise for everyone, including Audrey, Albright decides to modify the play to take place in the era of the Civil War. Budgets, sets, costumes, and his star’s disapproval, will not dissuade him.

As if the staffing changes and debates over the timing and setting for the play hadn’t slowed things down already, the death of a key player threatens to derail the whole thing permanently. Charlotte is determined to find the truth and save the play.

Review


This is the third book in the Shakespeare in the Catskills mystery series, and my first introduction to these characters.

This series is written in third person which was a shift for me from many of the cozies I read. You wouldn’t think it would make much of a difference but for some reason it did. The transitions from Charlotte’s scenes to others when she wasn’t there were jarring. I didn’t feel connected to her as a main character. There was a distance for the entire story that didn’t click for me. There were times early on when I was still finding the rhythm of the story where it felt like I was reading non-fiction because of the distance and formality in some of the writing. I prefer my cozies to be much warmer, and, well, cozier.

The mystery is solid from the start. There’s lots of time to get used to the different characters and their personalities and build tension over the play before the murder takes place. I was completely off base about the murderer, but the clues were there all along. Once I got into the story I was happy to read until the conclusion.

I missed the warmth and connection I feel with my favorite mysteries. I might read more of this series, if there was a story line that intrigued me. But the writing would take some getting used to for me. Other readers will not be bothered by the writing and will love this solid mystery.

Thanks to Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books for the electronic review copy offered in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥

Apartment 1986

REVIEW: Apartment 1986 by Lisa Papademetriou

Summary


Callie’s in something of a new stage of life. Her dad recently got a new job, and the family moved to NYC. Her mom’s given up her social work job to start a soap business. Callie has changed schools and is trying to find her way with a new crowd.

When Callie’s dad loses his new job, everything starts to shift again. Callie feels the need to keep up with her friends which right now means $250 for a concert ticket. But her parents are tense, and this is NOT the time to ask for that kind of money. But the money is only one issue at school. She’s also having issues with her history teacher. And if she gets one more tardy, the school will call her parents.

When Callie oversleeps one day, she decides to skip school all together (text in an excuse, avoid another tardy) and spend the day at a museum. It’s educational! She’ll go back tomorrow. But one day becomes two and then becomes a pattern. The time away from school temporarily postpones her issues there, and gives her time for a new friend, time to reconsider an old friendship, and time to gain new insights into her family. But problems rarely disappear when you avoid them.

Review


This was delightful! I loved Callie. She’s smart and earnest and a little quirky. Her friendship with Cassius is great. While she doesn’t share much with him about the things swirling in her life, he’s a sounding board for her – a safe place to think.

I loved Callie’s family, too. The family side of Callie’s story – the relationships, the things she learns about her family – was my favorite part. I discovered great layers to the characters as the story went on. I found the sections where the family talks about Callie’s uncle were really well-done.

In some ways, as I was reading, I felt the story meandered in several different directions. There’s the family stuff and the money stuff and the new vs. old friends stuff and then the Callie-centric stuff. It all holds together, though, with Callie at the center of it all, figuring out life one step at a time. Loved it!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Spoonful of Magic

REVIEW: A Spoonful of Magic by Irene Radford

Summary


Daphne “Daffy” Deschants celebrates her 13th wedding anniversary by calling out her husband, “G”(Gabriel), for sleeping around. She has pictures to prove it! And they came from G’s own work email. She’s starting to notice a new side of G. He only seems to care about their kids – and Daffy being around to care for them while his work takes him all around the world. And she thinks he’s used magic on her, too.

Daffy and her family live in Eugene, Oregon, home of a fairy festival and plenty of shops selling mystical and magical items. But Daffy hadn’t realized the extent of real magic in town, in her own house… and maybe even in herself.

Evil magic exists and G, as Sheriff of the Guild of Master Wizards, is hunting for one of the worst. But the evil seems to be circling ever closer to G’s family. How can he protect them when Daffy’s kicked him out of the house and doesn’t trust him?

Review


I have mixed feelings about this one. I generally love fantasy and magic stories like this one. And there were parts of this I really enjoyed. I liked Daffy and her kids. The pieces about the kids growing into their place in this magical world were great. At the same time, I did not like G at all. He was far too cavalier about his marriage and family to be likable in my opinion.

I also wanted a lot more world building. I felt like things were abruptly revealed, but also incompletely. Maybe that was because Daffy is the point of view character, and she is only just learning about this world herself. Point of view was interesting in this, too, as Daffy told her part of the story in first person while the other parts of the story that took place outside of her involvement were told in third person.

As urban fantasy goes, this was good (except for some of the world building as I mentioned). Personally, some of the magic pieces were dark for me, and I didn’t enjoy them. I also didn’t care for G’s ethics when it came to his marriage. Other readers might not be bothered by these things and may enjoy this story more than I did.

Thanks to Netgalley and DAW for an electronic review copy of this book offered in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥

A Fatal Collection

REVIEW: A Fatal Collection by Mary Ellen Hughes

Summary


Callie Reed arrives at her Aunt Mel’s music box store in “Keepsake Cove” for a long overdue reunion. But before they have time to do much catching up, Mel is dead and Callie has inherited her aunt’s store and cottage.

Callie’s not convinced Mel’s death was an accident. While she tries to get settled into her new home and learn about her new business, she also tries to get to know the folks in town. Maybe she can figure out who might have wanted to hurt her aunt.

There are several odd things going on around town. The town treasurer seems to go on more expensive vacations and buy expensive “toys” than his business should be able to support. The guy doing odd jobs around town seems menacing. And Callie’s business “neighbor” is openly hostile and only seems interested in buying out the music box shop and being horrible. Callie has her hands full trying to determine what really happened to Aunt Mel.

Review


This is the first book in the new Keepsake Cove mystery series. The setting is fantastic. The little collectible stores are quaint and quirky. It makes for lots of interesting characters for the town and reasons for lots of people to come through as visitors for future stories.

I loved the main characters. Callie is great and the friends she made in this first book created a solid supporting cast. Her quirky part timer with “psychic” gifts and Tarot readings made for some interesting impacts on the plot. The characters were introduced at a comfortable pace so the reader could keep track of everyone. This is a town and a group of people I’d love to spend more time with.

The mystery was solid. I was able to figure out the solution before the end. I enjoyed working through the clues and possible suspects. While I enjoy mysteries with a little magic or fantasy thrown in, I am not a fan of Tarot and other things that could be considered “occultish.” So that might keep me from reading more in the series in the future. I would have enjoyed the book just as much without that piece in the story.

Thanks to the folks at Netgalley and Midnight Ink for an electronic review copy of this book offered in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Silver Moon of Summer

REVIEW: The Silver Moon of Summer by Leila Howland

Summary


The Silver Sisters are back in Pruett, Massachusetts to spend a couple weeks with their Aunt Sunny. Marigold (14), Zinnie (13), and Lily (7) are ready for another summer of East Coast adventures and self-discovery.

Marigold auditions for a part in a TV show shooting in Pruett. While the TV filming is making life difficult for her maybe-boyfriend, Peter, it gives Marigold a chance to make a new friend who will be at her performing arts school in the fall.

Zinnie is going to spend the summer working on her blog. She hopes the school writing assignment will help her earn the job of Editor in Chief for the school’s literary journal. But she has to find adventures around Pruett to write about.

Lily has become an animal expert over the last year. She loves her naturalist camp at Pruett, and she teaches her family all sorts of things about animals. But an even bigger job this summer is reminding her big sisters not to fight. Their fights have caused major trouble over the last two summers. Is it even possible for Marigold and Zinnie to NOT fight for two whole weeks?

Review


This is a lovely third installment for this terrific middle grade series about family and identity. The girls have grown up nicely over the three books. They each have found their own niche (acting, writing, science), but the push and pull between Marigold and Zinnie is still there. Sisters so close in age vacillate  between being best friends and needing their own space. Marigold and Zinnie seem very normal in their sisterly dynamic.

Romance is a bigger factor in this story than in previous books as both Marigold and Zinnie hope their friendships with Peter and Max respectively can become something more this summer. This is still kept at an appropriate level (hand holding, declarations of “like,” quick kisses) for the book’s target audience.

These books are ideal summer reads – the setting is perfect – or fall reads for kids who want to relive the freedom of summer. The content is realistic, and the conflicts keep the story moving while still being “light” in tone. Great fun in store for readers of all three books in this series. (Some readers/families may raise a red flag at the use of a Ouija board by the girls in one scene.) I’ve been recommending this series to a lot of folks this year.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Mr Lemoncello's Great Library Race

REVIEW: Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race by Chris Grabenstein

Summary


Mr. Lemoncello has a new game for Kyle Keely and the other members of the Lemoncello Library board of trustees. The winners – and there will only be two of them – will get to travel to libraries across North America and share new holographic exhibits with them. The game is Mr. Lemoncello’s Fabulous Fact-Finding Frenzy.

Twenty-four kids in two-person teams will compete for five slots for the Frenzy. In the Frenzy, those players will research five historic figures who are going to be honored with special exhibits at the library. The winners will also get the first copies of Mr. Lemoncello’s newest holographic game!

While the kids are competing for fun prizes, rival game makers have come to Ohio to stir up trouble for Mr. Lemoncello. The kids will need everything they are learning about research if they have any hope of saving their library and their friend.

Review


I can’t think of a better middle grade series to hand to any and every kid you know than the Mr. Lemoncello books. When I was teaching, these books clicked with a variety of readers (including adults). This is the third installment of a book- and library-loving series that I would recommend for home, classroom and library use across the board.

This book shakes up some of the usual characters. Kyle is still front and center – and I love him. He’s a flawed character, but earnest and teachable. Fans of the series will recognize other kids in the story from previous books. But Kyle gets a new partner in puzzle-solving this time around. It’s a great way to see him grow!

The story reminded me of book two in this series and a little of the Harry Potter books in that Mr. Lemoncello is in danger but he steps back to let the kids work to save the day kind of like Dumbledore often does in Harry Potter. Mr. Lemoncello trusts the kids with his livelihood, his reputation, and his future. And the kids rise to the occasion. I thoroughly enjoyed this, especially the final conversation Kyle has a the very end of the book. So fun!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Canal Days Calamity nov8

REVIEW: Canal Days Calamity by Jamie M. Blair

Summary


As Cameron – Cam – amps up the preparation for Canal Days in Metamora, Indiana, she stumbles across the body of a local. She doesn’t even recognize the man at first. She certainly is NOT getting involved in another murder.

When the police arrest her friend and handyman, Andy, for the murder, Cam has to get involved. And her team, the Metamora Action Agency – two high school seniors and two senior citizens – are ready to start questioning suspects, too.

Cam has a lot more on her plate than a murder! There’s her house full of rowdy dogs, her sister’s business launch, her mom’s visit, new fellas in her mom’s life and her sister’s, her power struggle with her mother-in-law, and parenting her teenage stepdaughter while dating her estranged husband. Not to mention the Canal Days event for the whole town. Cam will need to watch her step as she negotiates it all while hunting for a murderer – or she could be the next victim.

Review


This is book two in the Dog Days Mystery series, but the first  book I’ve read. Because of this, I felt overwhelmed at the start of the book. There are a LOT of characters and businesses in this setting. I needed a list to keep track of everything. I wonder if I had read book one first if I would have had an easier time.

Once I had a handle on the characters, I fell in love with them. The relationships are quirky and complicated, in the best ways. I cared about what happened to these folks, which makes me want to go back and read book one and continue following the series. I’ve read several “good” mysteries lately, but my connection with these characters made this story “great.”

The mystery was good. I was surprised that the body was founds SO early. We hadn’t even met the character before he died. It made me feel invested in the case right from the first chapter.

I’m eager to read book one, Deadly Dog Days, and to tell other mystery fans to check out this series! Thanks to Netgalley and the folks at Midnight Ink for providing an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review. This book releases next Tuesday, November 8th.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½