Mom's Shelf

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Almost Home (Valerie Fraser Luesse)
With America's entrance into the Second World War, the town of Blackberry Springs, Alabama, has exploded virtually overnight. Workers from all over are coming south for jobs in Uncle Sam's munitions plants--and they're bringing their pasts with them, right into Dolly Chandler's grand but fading family home turned boardinghouse. An estranged young couple from the Midwest, unemployed professors from Chicago, a widower from Mississippi, a shattered young veteran struggling to heal from the war--they're all hoping Dolly's house will help them find their way back to the lives they left behind. But the house has a past of its own. When tragedy strikes, Dolly's only hope will be the circle of friends under her roof and their ability to discover the truth about what happened to a young bride who lived there a century before.

I fell into the middle of this story of heartbreak, tragedy, mystery, and overcoming! It's actually two stories interwoven into one....the present-tense story of Dolly and her boarders, and the past-tense story of the pirate Chauvin and his mysterious disappearance. The first is set in WW2, while the second is set in the mid-1800s and told through diary entries and present-day gossip. It was a four-star book for me right up until the very end, when it took a surprising twist and tied everything up beautifully!!! (No spoilers here...just read it.)

The Theft of America's Soul (Phil Robertson)
Phil Robertson, patriarch of A&E’s Duck Dynasty and one of the most recognized voices of conservative Christianity in America, believes that little by little, generation by generation, America has allowed the lines of morality, decency, and virtue to be erased. Our values have disappeared as we began to believe lies—such as that God is dead, truth is relative, and unity is impossible—that have brought discord, division and protest. But Phil also believes that things can change.  Writing with captivating storytelling and unflinching honesty, Phil shows how to make America a God-honoring nation once more: by dropping the ten central lies that rule our day and taking up the ten truths that will bring peace of mind, harmony, and prosperity back to our country.  The Theft of America’s Soul is a prophetic wake-up call for all who desire to see our nation thrive. And it is also an invitation to experience the life-giving, peace-filling, wholly-transforming love of God.

Phil seems like a simple guy who stumbled upon a good thing and is now using his fame and fortune to share his wisdom with others.  Whether I agree or disagree with his words, I respect a man who knows what he stands for and tries to do right by the world.  He speaks and proclaims the Truth, unconcerned about what mainstream media or the public think of him, and does so in a way that is on the level with regular people.  In this book, he's taken a handful of 'lies' that Americans live by, and has broken them down one by one, explaining why they are lies and how to reshape our way of thinking.  His one takeaway point, if you're a bullet point kind of person is, 'Without God, America has no hope for the future.'

Far Side of the Sea (Kate Breslin)
In spring 1918, Lieutenant Colin Mabry, a British soldier working with MI8 after suffering injuries on the front, receives a message by carrier pigeon. It is from Jewel Reyer, the woman he once loved and who saved his life--a woman he believed to be dead. Traveling to France to answer her urgent summons, he desperately hopes this mission will ease his guilt and restore the courage he lost on the battlefield.  Colin is stunned, however, to discover the message came from Jewel's half sister, Johanna. Johanna, who works at a dovecote for French Army Intelligence, found Jewel's diary and believes her sister is alive in the custody of a German agent. With spies everywhere, Colin is skeptical of Johanna, but as they travel across France and Spain, a tentative trust begins to grow between them.  When their pursuit leads them straight into the midst of a treacherous plot, danger and deception turn their search for answers into a battle for their lives.

Set against the backdrop of World War I, this is a love story set amongst a mystery and espionage.  After receiving a communication from (presumably) the woman he loves, Colin ends up working with her sister, Johanna, to try and save her.  As is the case with war-time romances, the best laid plans fall to the wayside and the pair ends up building a relationship and a deep trust and love while surrounded by an air of distrust.  I won’t say how the story ends, or which girl it ends with as the final love interest, but it does have a lot of mystery and twists and turns tucked into these pages!  Breslin does an amazing job of bringing WWI to life.  Similar to in High as the Heavens, she writes with such a vivid blending of the fiction and historical events that it feels like you’re really in the era!

I Think You're Wrong, but I'm Listening (Sarah Holland & Beth Silvers)
More than ever, politics seems driven by conflict and anger. People sitting together in pews every Sunday have started to feel like strangers, loved ones at the dinner table like enemies. Toxic political dialogue, hate-filled rants on social media, and agenda-driven news stories have become the new norm. It’s exhausting, and it’s too much.  In I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening), two working moms from opposite ends of the political spectrum contend that there is a better way. They believe that we can
  • choose to respect the dignity of every person,
  • choose to recognize that issues are nuanced and can’t be reduced to political talking points,
  • choose to listen in order to understand,
  • choose gentleness and patience.
Sarah from the left and Beth from the right invite those looking for something better than the status quo to pull up a chair and listen to the principles, insights, and practical tools they have learned hosting their fast-growing podcast Pantsuit Politics. As impossible as it might seem, people from opposing political perspectives truly can have calm, grace-­filled conversations with one another—by putting relationship before policy and understanding before argument.

In a polarized time where people either choose to actively avoid political talk or create as much 'hot air' as possible, this book is a much-needed salve for our souls.  It comes from both sides of the fence, and shows that these discussions are both needed and craved by many, AND they can be handled with grace and love.  This isn't about 'us' versus 'them,' but rather about what's best for everyone...and we all know that no one gets everything they want when we look out for the group as a whole.  What would our country look like if it were run by a group of moms - from all political walks - who try to plan a country that's best for their children and grandchildren, rather than just the legal and monetary aspects?  I think it would look a lot different, and so do the authors, who know that what it really boils down to is treating each other like the fellow human beings that we are...including those who spout of nonsense and tripe (not a dissenting opinion, but those folks whose only goal is to rile others up) online.  For anyone who feels afraid to talk about politics, or feels that our country has reached a schism so wide it will never be breached, this book will give you hope.

Taste & See (Margaret Feinberg)
One of America's most beloved teachers and writers, Margaret Feinberg, goes on a remarkable journey to unearth God's perspective on food.  She writes that since the opening of creation, God, the Master Chef, seeds the world with pomegranates and passionfruit, beans and greens and tangerines. When the Israelites wander in the desert for forty years, God, the Pastry Chef, delivers the sweet bread of heaven. After arriving in the Promised Land, God reveals himself as Barbecue Master, delighting in meat sacrifices. Like his Foodie Father, Jesus throws the disciples an unforgettable two-course farewell supper to be repeated until his return.  This groundbreaking book provides a culinary exploration of Scripture. You'll descend 400 feet below ground into the frosty white caverns of a salt mine, fish on the Sea of Galilee, bake fresh matzo at Yale University, ferry to a remote island in Croatia to harvest olives, spend time with a Texas butcher known as "the meat apostle," and wander a California farm with one of the world's premier fig farmers.  With each visit, Margaret asks, "How do you read these Scriptures, not as theologians, but in light of what you do every day?" Their answers will forever change the way you read the Bible - and approach every meal.  Taste and See is a delicious read that includes dozens of recipes for those who, like Margaret, believe some of life's richest moments are spent savoring a meal with those you love.  Perhaps God's foodie focus is meant to do more than satisfy our bellies. It's meant to heal our souls, as we learn to taste and see the goodness of God together. After all, food is God's love made edible.

Don't read this book while you're hungry.  Seriously.  Each chapter ends with mouth-watering recipes that will make you want to put it down and go cook!  We get to travel the world with the author as she experiences the hands-on creation of foods and warm camaraderie of her fellow foodies.  One of my favorite chapters took place in Texas and ended with a Flame-Grilled Lamb Chop...yum!  The book is about developing deeper relationships with both God and those around us, and it's written in an anecdotal tone that feels warm.  Whether you're a foodie, or just like to eat, this book will nourish your soul!

Mending Fences (Suzanne Fisher Woods)
Luke Schrock is a new and improved man after a stint in rehab, though everyone in Stoney Ridge only remembers the old Luke. They might have forgiven him, but nobody trusts him.  Amos and Fern Lapp allow Luke to live at Windmill Farm under two conditions. First, Luke must make a sincere apology to each person he's hurt--a four-page, single-spaced list. Second, he must ask each victim of mischief to describe the damage he caused.  Simple, Luke thinks. Offering apologies is easy. But discovering the lasting effects his careless actions have caused . . . that isn't so simple. It's gut-wrenching.  And his list keeps growing. Izzy Miller, beautiful and frustratingly aloof, also boards at Windmill Farm. Luke's clumsy efforts to befriend Izzy only insult and annoy her. Eager to impress, Luke sets out to prove himself to her by locating her mother. When he does, her identity sends shock waves through Stoney Ridge.

I've read a lot of Amish fiction, but I've never seen one where the main character has served three stints in rehab for addiction and is now going through a 12-step program!  Both Izzy and Luke's characters are so raw, and so real that they're almost unreal, that you just want to jump in the story and give them your support.  One of my favorite characters was Bishop Stoltzfus, who doesn't come across as the commandeering disciplinarian often seen in Amish fiction, but actually goes out of his way to be a gentle guiding force.  I didn't realize until going back and looking at the cover that this is the beginning of a new series.  Many of the supporting roles are carryovers from other books by the author, and it's nice to see their continuing stories.

With Winter's First Frost (Kelly Irvin)
At age seventy-three, Laura Kauffman knows she is closer to the end of life than the beginning. If God willed it, she would join her beloved late husband soon. Even so, Laura wonders what purpose God might have for her in this winter of her life—and why this season seems so lonely. Widower Zechariah Stutzman is facing his own barren season, despite the great-grandchildren swirling around him. With his Parkinson’s worsening, he had no choice but to move in with his grandson’s family, though now he feels adrift and useless. When Laura offers to help with Zechariah’s five great-grandchildren after their mother has a difficult childbirth, Zechariah is unsure how he will adjust to the warm but tart demeanor of this woman he has known since grade school. But soon Laura and Zechariah learn they are asking God the same questions about loss and hope. And they begin to wonder if He is providing answers after all.

I've had the pleasure of reading all four books in this series, and really enjoyed them all! I love how they bring each season of life to the forefront on the pages of the stories. In this book, we follow Laura through the 'winter' season of life...dealing with issues of loss, grief, health concerns, and the circumstances that come with aging. She tries to share her life's wisdom with some grand and great-grandchildren, but as youth as wont to do, they prefer to learn from their own mistakes. It seems very difficult to be in her situation, but she has a good spirit and makes the most of it. In spite of the season, this story is woven throughout with love interest and romantic couples. It teaches us to watch our elders and learn from them. I'm sad to see the series end, but looking forward to what comes next from this author!

The Curse of Misty Wayfair (Jaime Jo Wright)
Left at an orphanage as a child, Thea Reed vowed to find her mother someday. Now grown, her search takes her to Pleasant Valley, Wisconsin, in 1908. When clues lead her to a mental asylum, Thea uses her experience as a post-mortem photographer to gain access and assist groundskeeper Simeon Coyle in photographing the patients and uncovering the secrets within. However, she never expected her personal quest would reawaken the legend of Misty Wayfair, a murdered woman who allegedly haunts the area and whose appearance portends death.  A century later, Heidi Lane receives a troubling letter from her mother--who is battling dementia--compelling her to travel to Pleasant Valley for answers to her own questions of identity. When she catches sight of a ghostly woman who haunts the asylum ruins in the woods, the long-standing story of Misty Wayfair returns--and with it, Heidi's fear for her own life.  As two women across time seek answers about their identities and heritage, can they overcome the threat of the mysterious curse that has them inextricably intertwined?

This was a new author for me, but one I’ll be keeping an eye out for….the book was SO creepy!  It tackles the sensitive issue of mental health, and how it was insensitively handled a century ago, in a way that leaves the reader feeling emotionally exhausted by the story’s end.  Written with Christian undertones (but not preachy), it also focuses heavily on finding the purpose in one’s life.  I was a little creeped out by the postmortem photography, but know that it was a big deal back in the day.  If I could offer the reader one piece of advice, it would be this:  Don’t make this the book you read before going to sleep!  (FYI - This is a multiple timeline book, but it’s woven together so that they flow naturally.)