Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Arts & Crafts in Northern Michigan

When you live in a climate that includes 4-6 months of winter, there's more to summer than just warm days. Any outdoor activities  - class reunions, weddings, fairs - get crammed into our 12-16 snowless weekends (notice I didn't say warm - just without snow).

The Elk Rapids Arts & Crafts Fair
Hands down one of my favorite summer activities is the arts and crafts fair. I'm lucky enough to live in a community that hosts one every month, May-August. Our May 25 fair was a bit chilly (notice the coats and jeans!), but the sun was out and the vendors showed up, so Linda and I grabbed our friends, Hope and Joy, then made our way downtown.

Our blacksmith friend (I forgot to get his name!)
Joy's favorite was this blacksmith. We could have stayed there all day without her complaining. It's hard to stay in once place, however, when you can smell the cinnamon roasted almonds a few booths down (because no fair is complete without some type of yummy snack food).
Only $2!!
My favorite part of the Elk Rapids art fair is the prices. I've been to dozens of other fairs over the years and spend most of my time drooling over pieces I'll never be able to afford. In Elk Rapids, the vendors sell everything from paintings worth hundreds of dollars (see below) to beautiful, hand-made dollar crafts for the kids (and modestly wealthy) to buy.
I admire this artist's work every year.
One of these days Linda and I will be rich, and we'll get to buy whatever we want at the arts and crafts fair, but for now we enjoy the window shopping and chatting with friends (not to mention finally getting outside after a long winter).
Joy with her new crown and flower.
Even if you don't enjoy buying hand-made artwork, the fair in Elk Rapids offers one of the most beautiful settings for any outdoor event. Walk two blocks past the fair and you end up at the beach; two blocks in the other direction takes you to the library. It doesn't matter which way you go - natural beauty surrounds the man-made beauty of the arts and crafts fair.
Linda and Hope leading the way.

 Best of all - it's a short walk home.
Another successful trip to the fair.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Book Review: A Bride for All Seasons

It all started with an ad in a mail-order bride catalogue . . .

This charming bouquet of novellas introduces you to four Hitching Post Mail-Order Bride Catalogue prospects in the year 1870, all eager for second chances . . . and hungry for happiness. Year in, year out, they'll learn that love often comes in unexpected packages.

"And then Came Spring" by Margaret Brownley
Mary-Jo has traveled halfway across the country to meet her match, arriving just in time for his funeral. Returning home seems like her only option until her would-be brother-in-law proposes a more daring idea.

"An Ever After Summer" by Debra Clopton
Ellie had no idea she's not what Matthew ordered. And what's wrong with being a "Bible thumper" anyway? She's determined to show him she's tougher than she looks-and just the girl he needs.

"Autumn's Angel" by Robin Lee Hatcher
Luvena would be perfect for Clay if she didn't come with kids. But kids are a deal breaker, especially in a rough-and-trouble mining town. ­ e trouble is, there's no money to send them back . . .

"Winter Wedding Bells" by Mary Connealy
David's convinced he's not long for the world. He needs someone to mother his boys when he's gone-nothing more. Can plucky Irish Megan convince him to work at living instead of dying?
I picked up this book because I'm a huge fan of Mary Connealy. I've read Robin Lee Hatcher before, but wasn't as familiar with the other authors. I figured anyone paired up with Connealy must be good, so I read the novellas.

A Bride for All Seasons is exactly what I'd hoped for in a collection of novellas. Each story contained tension, romance, and a small cast of characters trying to make life work.

I've been disappointed by novella collections in the past because they tend to feel rushed, as if the authors simply cut chapters from longer books. That wasn't the case with these stories. Though short, each story provided all of the engaging plot elements I expect and enjoy in full length novels. This also gave me a chance to meet some new authors (who I will probably read in the future, now that I've sampled their styles).

An easy, entertaining read full of tricky situations and sweet romance.

*I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are strictly my own.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Reading Reviews: 12 Days of Christmas in Elk Rapids

##Reading Reviews has moved from my writing blog to this blog. In the future you'll find all book reviews here:##

I won't lie - this isn't a book review. It's a shameless plug. I love Christmas. I love Elk Rapids. I love young writers who pursue their dreams. For that reason I'm dedicating this month to a few elementary aged writers who put together a little book about one of my favorite places. Here's the scoop:

This book was written as a tribute to the beautiful village of Elk Rapids, Michigan. Mrs. Veith's third graders from Lakeland Elementary School worked as a team to brainstorm all the wonderful things that our village provides for us. The third graders than continued to research the topics that they choose to complete a page in our 12 Days of Christmas in Elk Rapids book. All the illustrations were also completed by these hard working third graders. This book shares many of the wonderful things that our great village has to offer and why Elk Rapids, Michigan is a great place to visit and live.

I can pretty much guarantee there will be telling. Don't expect any deep point-of-view. Ignore the passive to-be verb. Take a few minutes and celebrate with some Elk Rapids 3rd graders who get to see their book in print. (If you want to get your hands on a copy, you can order it here.)

Wolfsbane by Ronie Kendig: Book Three of the Discarded Heroes series - perhaps a little risque for a Christian novel, but she presented realistic drama in a well-written, non-graphic way. Faith didn't seem as important in this book, but still a large piece of the plot. Just as exciting and suspenseful as the first two books. A great example of Kendig's style.***

Old Man & the Sea by Ernest Hemingway: The first Hemingway book I've ever read. It took a while to get used to - the older writing style is completely opposite of what I've been taught is good writing. Not my cup of coffee, but I would definitely recommend it to my husband.***

Dead Dancing Women by Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli: A fun book because it's set in a small town that used to exist near where I live. The plot, however, was a little unbelievable and it read like it wasn't sure if it wanted to be a literary novel or genre. Not my favorite book, but not the worst I've ever read. **

Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Review (and Giveaway!): Talon by Ronie Kendig

All Air Force veteran Aspen Courtland wants is her brother back. The US Marine Corps says he’s dead, but Aspen won’t believe it till she sees his body. Her only hope is her brother’s tracking dog, Talon, but a brutal attack has left the dog afraid of his own shadow.

The truth is something Military Intelligence Operative Dane Markoski has never faced. But now it’s the only thing that can save him—along with Talon’s help. But working with Talon means teaming up with Aspen as well, and Dane swore he’d never work with a woman.

Eventually they join forces to battle the elements and extremists. But if Talon can’t rise up to his former glory for one last mission, the only outcome for all three will be game over.

Ronie Kendig consistently provides fast-paced plots, flawed-but-trying characters, and a bit of tortured romance in her military thriller books. Talon is no exception. From the very first page her expertly-trained characters engage, fighting the enemy as well as their demons. Kendig has a knack for including multiple points-of-view, so you have to pay attention while you're reading, but the different angles keep your attention and give a wider view of the unfamiliar landscape of special ops and military intrigue.

My only issue with the novel is the full-throttle intro, but this is a reflection of the industry, not Kendig. I understand that there's a push to start the story with a bang (literally in Kendig's work), but the immediate action with no character introduction always leaves me feeling lost and confused. Technically Kendig masterfully wrote the opening action, but it took me 40+ pages before the story really pulled me in because I felt like I was trying to keep up. Again, that's not a reflection of the author, but I wanted to mention it. If you're like me you may struggle through the first 40-50 pages, but stick with it. Kendig's stories are worth it.

Leave a comment with your email address included for a chance to win a copy of Talon. The winner will be randomly selected on June 17 - good luck!

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Cupcakes and Presents and Babies, Oh My!

The Decor
Since she moved in, Linda has bonded with most of my friends. She's not just my Aunt Linda, she's everyone's Aunt Linda.

One of her favorite people is my friend Shaina. Linda met Shaina seven years ago at my wedding. She's been part of the family ever since. When she told us she was expecting, Linda went into super-aunt mode:
Some of the party guests!

She volunteered our house for the baby shower, volunteered my services at the hospital, and even volunteered to change some diapers and babysit. Linda is a very excited adoptive-great-aunt.
Is that a pacifier with a mustache on top?! Yes it is.
 Linda regularly checks in on Shaina, following up on doctor appointments and such. She's been especially concerned with the shower. Together with our friend Hope, we've planned everything ... we just didn't check the calendar.

No words needed.
 Somehow we managed to plan the shower for the weekend that Linda's out of town! Seriously, what kind of friends are we??

No worries, though. With a few bucks and a little planning, we pulled of a mini-surprise shower!
Our youngest attendees.
Linda and I made cupcakes, Hope's fam provided the dinner. I bought some balloons. Hope picked up some guests. Everyone brought presents and viola! Instant baby shower, for Linda as much as it was for Shaina.
Photo bombed by the four year-old.
 The food was great, the company was charming, the weather was perfect, and, most importantly, Linda got to spoil one of her dozens of adopted nieces. Shaina was a sport, adding another party to her already packed schedule.
Shaina & Linda

Linda is definitely not one to let a little thing like 100 miles stop her from enjoying a good party. All she needs is a little time, a wee bit of help, and she can make anything happen.

Coming Soon - July 2013
And now the countdown to baby begins. Linda's already cleared a space on her dresser for a picture of Shaina, the baby, and their cat. She doesn't have a picture of me, of course, but Shaina already has a place reserved. Gotta love Aunt Linda.