Saturday, November 29, 2008

I'm Consolidating Mom Said with Liz Sez

I originally set this blog up for reviews and news about my works-in-progress, but I always feel guilty about not posting often enough.

I've decided to go ahead and post reviews on Liz Sez, even though that is the blog that is connected with yourLDSneighborhood. I think it will actually make it a more robust blog.

Here are the reviews that you will find on this blog:

The Crayon Messages, by Christine Thackeray

Ride to Raton, by Marsha Ward

Michael Ethington, I Believe

The Power of Your Patriarchal Blessing, by Gayla Wise

A Future for Tomorrow, by Haley Hatch Freeman

Delicious Conversation, by Jennifer Stewart Griffith

Loyalty's Web, by Joyce DiPastena

Enjoying the Journey, by Jaime Theler & Deborah Talmadge

The Journey, by J. Adams

If you know I've reviewed something, but it isn't here, check Liz Sez.

I'll see you there!

Liz Adair

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Crayon Messages, by Christine Thackeray - A Review

Christine Thackeray is fearless. She doesn’t hesitate to suggest that all is not well in Zion, at least where some of the Relief Society sisters are concerned. Her description of a confrontation in the foyer between Cath Reed and the Relief Society secretary is delicious.
Come to think of it, Cath Reed is fearless, too. She manages to also be articulate and self-possessed—something I never am. I’m one of those people who sputter and stammer and end up saying, “Oh yeah?”

Cath is also Christian and, sigh, an excellent visiting teacher.

Christine Thackeray has fashioned a sweet tale about a visiting teacher with a challenging companion. I won’t tell you what the challenge is, but this companion is the hub around which many of the sub plots turn. And, when you start with such a quirky premise, the sub plots are bound to be interesting and fun, too.

There are lots of little plot loops that spiral around, drawing you in, making you wonder what comes next, and then the ends are tied up quite nicely.

When I say The Crayon Messages is a sweet tale, I don’t mean it’s cloying. It’s like a SweeTart—one of those candies that zings you every now and then just to make sure your acid buds are still functioning.

Christine’s main character, Cath Reed, is well realized. She's definitely a multi-dimensional character. I think I would like to have known more about her secondary characters: the organist, the nursery care leader, the bishop’s inactive wife—even the Relief Society secretary. These aren't your stock ward members, and I 'd love to hear more of their stories. You can bet with Christine Thackeray telling them, they'd be interesting and just slightly off-the-wall.

This is Christine Thackeray’s first novel. I can’t wait to read her second. Maybe I’ll meet some of those secondary characters in the next book, and I’ll get my wish.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ride to Raton, by Marsha Ward - a Review

Marsha Ward’s western novel, Ride to Raton, reminded me why I swore off reading fiction a long time ago: I can’t put the story down. I let housework, bookwork, writing, visiting teaching, and all my routines slide because I absolutely have to know what happens next. Luckily I no longer have children at home to neglect while I read that one last chapter.

I’m just one generation removed from the ranch. Or is it two? My mother was born on a homestead in New Mexico, and I have two uncles who worked cattle all their lives. The title of Marsha’s book resonated with me, because I remember the title town from conversations in my grandmother’s living room when the old cowboy stories were circulating. Since Raton is northern New Mexico and we lived in the south, it probably had to do with rodeos, as my uncles competed in the 1930’s.

Another thing Marsha’s book reminded me of was the old adage that there are two sides to every story. In her first novel, Man from Shenandoah, we’re introduced to the Owen clan and follow their trek west after the Civil War. We also follow Carl’s romance with Ellen and sigh when he gets the girl. It matters not that Ellen is promised to his brother James, because she loves Carl. All ends well.

Except for James. Ride to Raton opens with Carl and Ellen’s wedding, and we see what we didn’t see in the first book: their happiness is James’s open wound. Unable to stay and witness their wedded bliss, James leaves everything he has in the world and sets out, penniless, to find someplace where he can make his fortune while he heals.

Marsha Ward has the ability to put you in the time and place. The west during the mid-1800s was not a hospitable region, and she doesn’t romanticize it. I was particularly moved by how Marsha described the treatment of a gunshot injury James receives, first by the local doctor and then by an old friend from back home.

Marsha does a good job of setting up the adventures that James has and making them believable, and she carries those adventures through to the very end. She also makes communication between James and Amparo (a young lady from Santa Fe) believable as they travel alone together. He speaks no Spanish; she speaks no English.

Marsha’s use of imagery is a treat. For instance: “…she had slipped from his grasp like quick-silver chased across a tabletop.” Those of us who grew up before knowledge of mercury poisoning know how hard it is to pick up a dollop of quicksilver. It’s a very elusive metal. Here’s another: “Only much later did sleep lay a quilt of blackness over his exhausted body.” And one last one: “…with the November sun pouting on the breast of a hazy sky.” Don’t you love it? The book is littered with similar gems.

You don’t have to read Man from Shenandoah first. Ride to Raton stands on its own very well, and it leaves us caring about James Owen and wondering what will happen to him next.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Michael Ethington, Believe - A Review

Do you know about Neighborhood and Friends? It’s a Facebook-kind-of-a-thing for LDS people.

I made a friend there the other day named Michael Ethington. I read his profile and checked out his web site and found out he’s a musician and has a CD out. The NPR station I listen to plays jazz, and I prefer something else to think by as I’m driving, so I thought I’d give Michael’s CD a listen.

I really like it. Some tracks are soothing, like “Lead Kindly Light.” His setting reminds me of sitting at anchor in Echo Bay, listening to the incoming tide lap against the shore. And “Sweet Hour of Prayer” is as sweet as its title and has the bonus of “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing” thrown in. (Do you ever wonder who made the
decision to take that hymn out of the book?)

Michael’s rendition of “Come, Come Ye Saints” is full of energy and drive, even when it switches to a minor key. At first I thought it was too hard-edged, but it grew on me, and now it’s one of my favorites.

I’m no musician. Anyone who has been forced to hear me play the baritone (which is anyone who comes to visit) can tell you that. But I love music. Michal Ethington’s CD is nice music to drive to. You can get lost in thought during his improvisation, and then you’re pulled back to the hymn when he brings it back to the melody.

His own compositions are nice, too, and he included a piece written by his father, to whom this CD is dedicated.

Check out Michael’s web site at and give it a listen.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Power of your Patriarchal Blessing, by Gayla Wise - a Review

The comforting thing about Gayla Wise’s book, The Power of your Patriarchal Blessing is that it gave me permission to admit that I don’t know where my blessing is. Oh, I know it’s somewhere in the cubic yard of accumulated family history I have stashed in various closets since we moved four years ago, but if my life depended on locating it in the next twenty-four hours, I’d be looking at a sudden passing.

If you’ve lost your blessing, Gayla tells you how to get another copy. I may just avail myself of that information, for since reading her book, I’ve been thinking I need to get mine out and read it again.

Correction: I need to find it, get it out, and read it again.

The Power of your Patriarchal Blessing sounds like a solemn tome, replete with footnotes and massive scriptural buttressing, but it’s not. There are end notes, to be sure, and some scriptures, but it’s more like a comfortable chat with a good friend. Gayla has talked with a lot of people about their patriarchal blessings and shares with you their insights. If you’re like me, this leads you to ask, where is my blessing? If you’re not like me and know where your blessing is, it prompts you take it out and read it again.

One of the suggestions Gayla shares is to copy your blessing, take the copy, and highlight in different colors all the warnings, strengths, and promised blessings you find.

The book is structured so you can read it in pieces. Each chapter is free-standing, which would make it good for a spiritual pick-me-up in the middle of the day over a period of time.

I gave this book to several people for Christmas last year and got hugs as thanks. You can’t get a better review than that.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Future for Tomorrow by Haley Hatch Freeman - a Review

The picture on the front of Haley Hatch Freeman’s book A Future for Tomorrow tells it all. A slender young woman looks in the mirror and sees a blimped-out version of herself. I looked at that sketch and said (ungrammatically), “That was me!” I always felt like such an elephant, but now, fifty years later, I look at pictures of myself in high school and realize I had a terrific figure.

Do we all do that? Haley Freeman takes us into the mind and life of a young woman who carries that skewed self-perception to an extreme. Because she was a regular diarist from childhood, she has a written record of her thoughts at the time. It’s a sad little window, and she’s a brave gal for letting us look through.

Before you begin, look at the last three pages of the book. There is a happy ending. Getting there is tough going, but hang in there. The journey will be instructive, as Haley intends to teach you through her experience. She hasn’t done this to entertain or to garner fame. She wants parents and families to understand and recognize the signs of an eating disorder and to understand that an eating disorder can ravage more than the physical body.

The writing isn’t polished, but that fits. It’s a young girl’s story. Haley’s use of her own and her friend’s diaries, along with the notes of the medical people who attended her, are powerful tools in telling that story.

If I were to read it again, I would read Part I backward, by chapter. Haley explains her reason for structuring Part 1 to go back in time, but I need to see things laid out in narrative as they happened, and it was a bit disorienting.

A Future for Tomorrow would be a great book for a young woman and a mom to read and discuss. It would be a meaty book for a book club to discuss. It’s not Pride and Prejudice or Twilight, as it was written for a different purpose, but it is sure to spark a lively debate.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Delicious Conversation, by Jennifer Stewart Griffith - A Review

Chick-lit sounds like choc-late, and this chick-lit is about choc-late. Before I go any further, I have to state that we all know that chick-lit romances are lite fare (and no one knows better than I, because I’ve written a couple). They are fluffy avenues through which readers (harried mothers and stressed-out employees--or bosses, for that matter) can escape to an assured happy ending. Within those parameters, Delicious Conversation performs well.

The story is about Susannah, a successful economist or accountant, or something to do with numbers, who is thrown out of work when the company she works for goes into bankruptcy. Unwilling to commit to another soul-sucking position in a large corporation, she opens a chocolate shop. At the same time, her nonexistent social life blossoms to include the city’s most eligible bachelor and an old flame. Oh, and her house is condemned. When it seems that nothing else can happen to complicate her life…well, you’ll just have to read it and see.

Jennifer Stewart Griffith has a light, breezy style. She has written a likeable, self-depreciating heroine, as well as the requisite sterling fella and the handsome-but-secretly-slimy fella necessary in every romance. She gets off some good one-liners and creates a couple off-the-wall situations which she manages to make believable.

Jennifer Griffith names each chapter after a decadent chocolate dessert, and at the end of the chapter you are rewarded with the recipe. I gained three pounds just reading the book.

Delicious Conversation is a cute book. It has an underlying message (not a requisite for chick-lit) about seasons and choices, and would make a nice little, blood-pressure-lowering escape from daily cares. Tuck it in your purse to read while you’re waiting at the dentist’s or at piano lessons, or those odd little pockets of time. You’re guaranteed a happy ending.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Loyalty's Web, by Joyce DiPastena - a Review

The cover of Loyalty’s Web designates it as a historical romance novel. I expected the emphasis to be on romance with some soft-core sop to the period—maybe a reference to a tapestry here or a roasting spit there. I didn’t expect to be immersed in a living, breathing medieval world. Joyce DiPastena has done a masterful job of setting time and place, and she is at her best when motivating her characters through the historical exigencies of the era. Set in the time of Henry II when Richard is gathering support against his father, life is tenuous because friends and allies can suddenly turn into liabilities with the swiftly shifting political tides. Hence the title, Loyalty’s Web. One’s loyalties can certainly land one in a lot of trouble.

Helene de Merval first meets the Earl of Gunthar as he arrives to be betrothed to her sister, Clothilde. It is a marriage of political convenience, a tool to cement de Merval’s allegiance to Henry II, and Helene feels the unfairness of it particularly, because it was the Earl of Gunthar who laid siege to her castle home the year before and utterly defeated her father in battle.

When Helene’s old childhood friend tries to kill the Earl at the betrothal feast, not only is de Merval’s loyalty called into question, but it appears there may be an uprising afoot. As the plot unravels, with twists and surprises to the very end, Helene and the Earl of Gunthar find themselves falling in love with one another. However, loyalty is a sticky web there, too, as the king has commanded the Earl to marry Clothilde, and to disobey would be treason.

A good prep for reading this novel, if you’re not up on the history of that period, is to watch two movies: The Lion in Winter and Becket. Peter O’Toole plays Henry II in both of them, and it will set you up for the issues and flavor of the time.

Loyalty’s Web is an excellent first novel and I was delighted when it was a finalist for the Whitney Award. I look forward to Joyce DiPastena’s next.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Enjoying the Journey, by Jaime Theler & Deborah Talmadge - A Review

I’m such a story-based writer that I usually can’t get involved in a book that doesn’t have a good story line, so I didn’t expect to like Jaime Theler and Deborah Talmadge’s book Enjoying the Journey so much. My husband reads the deep (read: dry) books in our household, and I read the frivolous ones.

Enjoying the Journey isn’t frivolous, but neither did I find it dry. It’s very readable and has plenty of down-to-earth examples and personal anecdotes to hold the interest of readers like me. I love it when Jaime Theler confesses, “I may not be famous or glamorous or possess widely acclaimed skill or talent. I am just a normal, often frazzled, stay-at-home mom, but I am a normal, often frazzled, stay-at-home mom who is the daughter of a Heavenly Father who dearly loves me.” I can identify with that.

The book is laid out in a way that flows from one subject to another in a logical progression that is persuasively positive. The Table of Contents gives good clues to where it takes you, beginning with “Finding the Path” and ending with “Reach for Your Destiny”. Along the way, the book visits “Resolve Your Identity Crisis”, “Clear Away the Clutter,” and “Be Proud of Peculiar”, as well as eight other intriguing chapter titles.

Enjoying the Journey is a book that needs to be read in pieces to allow for pondering in between times. It would be great for a morning devotional, because it will brighten your whole day.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Journey, by J. Adams - A Review

My maiden book review on this blog is J Adams’ young adult fantasy, The Journey, and what a way to begin! They say you can’t tell a book by its cover, but with this book you can. The cover promises beauty, danger, and things—good or ill?--hidden from view, yet to be discovered.

The book was all of that. Much as C. S. Lewis did with his The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, creating an allegory of The Atonement that can also be read simply as an intriguing fantasy, J. Adams has written a beautiful allegory based on one of the most basic Latter-day Saint gospel principles.

Because I am not the target audience of this book, I asked my granddaughter Kjaisa to read it and then come and sit down with me and talk about it. A very mature twelve, she loves to read and was glad to do it.

When I asked her what she thought of The Journey, she said she really liked it. “I found a lot of depth in the book,” she said. “It’s a book that I would definitely recommend to my friends.”

This was a good beginning. I asked who her favorite character was, and she said it was Orion, because he reminded her of a leprechaun. Her favorite part, she said in answer to my question, was at the end. I won’t quote her, because that would be a spoiler, but she said the revelations during the time they were fighting were really amazing. These were revelations that harkened back to the beginning when the main character, Ciran, asked questions about her mother. Kjaisa said it was totally cool.

I didn’t mention to Kjaisa the second level of meaning, not wanting to put her on the spot, but when I finished writing notes on what she had said and turned away from the computer, she said, “Grandma, I don’t know if you wanted me to talk about it, but there was one other thing….” She had got it, completely, and she went through the allegory, detailing what the story meant to her.

I asked her when she discovered the second meaning, and she said it was when Ciran met Ubal.

“Did it make a difference?" I asked. “Did it bother you to have the story turn out to be an allegory?”

“No,” she said. “It made the read better. It’s kind of like an inside joke. You have to know about the Gospel to really get that.”

I’m with Kjaisa. The Journey is definitely a book that I would recommend to my friends.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

And Thus We Begin

I've resisted having a blog where I chronicle the steps leading up to the publication of my next book, believing that there can't be anyone in the universe that would be even remotely interested, but I do need a forum where I can redeem my promise to review books, so I created this blog.

And, yes, I will update the steps sto publication. Stay tuned.