Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Martha's Vineyard--Isle of Dreams" and 7 Other Books I've Enjoyed Recently.

I am so loving this book!” When those words came out of my mouth this week they even surprised me, as I'm a picky reader and seldom rave about a title. But Martha's Vineyard by Susan Branch is not your normal hardback. Don't believe me? Maybe this photo will help:

Every page of text is intermingled with either photos, little sketches, recipes, quotes, and delicate borders, something unlike any autobiography I've ever seen and clearly reflects Susan Branch's personality and skill.

For those unfamiliar with the name, Susan Branch is an artist, best known for her pastel renderings found on stationery, calendars, scrap booking accessories, and in her books. Often she paints subjects among her surroundings at home on the island: flowers, picket fences, vases she collects, her three cats (Girl Kitty, Man Kitty and Billy), ocean scenes, birds, a vintage stove, and much more.

Back in 1993, I and a good friend, took a ferry ride over to Martha's Vineyard and by day's end I was already longing to return for a longer visit. That never happened, but reading Branch's book made me feel like I was back there again. Her friendly writing style and descriptive passages of life on the island were exactly as I remembered and made it easy to enjoy what she had to say.

The engaging story begins with her spontaneous 3-month-escape to Martha's Vineyard to sort things out about her troubled marriage back in California. But when a tiny cottage on an acre of land turns up she opts to buy it and start life over in a remote place where everyone is a stranger. What follows in the remainder of the book are snippets from the next five years of her life as she recovers from a divorce, continues her work as an artist, becomes a part of the community and beautifies and improves her home and life. Whether you've been to Martha's Vineyard or not it's a delightful read. 368 pages.


Branch's book is not the only title I read recently. I also spent time with an espionage thriller; a revised edition of a title I read, and liked, some twenty years ago; a lighthearted mystery; and four children's books ideal for parents with a child about to start school for the first time.

Will any of these titles pique your interest? I certainly hope so! Let's start with a thriller I finished in two days--a sign right there that it was pretty good read.

The Black Widow by Daniel Silva. As always, Silva has written another espionage thriller that ties in to today's current events. This time the story involves an Israeli female doctor, turned spy, who infiltrates an ISIS cell in Syria to obtain information about a certain leader--the man behind a recent Paris bombing-- and his plans for the next attack. It's an easy and captivating read in which you learn a bit of history while being entertained. Usually Silva's books are free of foul language, but not in this title, though it is very minimal. 544 pages. Audio was terrific. 

Loved Back to Life: How I Found the Courage to Live Free by Sheila Walsh. This is an updated edition of Honestly written by the author (former co-host of The 700 Club) some 20 years ago in which she tells her story of being admitted into a Psychiatric hospital and what transpired in the years following.

When I originally read the book in 1996 two things surprised me about the book: (1) her vulnerability in addressing depression, a subject rarely acknowledged within the Christian church at the time and (2) the book's need for better editing. I'm not 100% certain but I believe this revised edition has removed some of the extraneous material which has made the story move along at a better clip.

While this is not my top choice for a book about depression from a Christian viewpoint I like it and would not hesitate to suggest it to someone who needs to know they are not alone with this illness, that it's nothing to be ashamed of, and that you can rise above, or for some, overcome it. Audio version was a disappointment. Think it would have been better had Sheila narrated the book to convey the emotion and personality within the story, plus her lovely Scottish accent.

State Fair by Earlene Fowler. This is book #14 in the Benni Harper Mystery series which came as a suggestion from Sharon G., one of my blog readers. According to Sharon, “Fowler's books are light, easy reading, but I love trying to solve the mystery.”

I'd never heard of the author so was curious to try one of her novels in audio format. State Fair turned out to be a whimsical read thanks to a quirky character who loved to play sleuth and in the process mess up a murder investigation. Anyone who likes country fairs, quilts, and solving mysteries would definitely enjoy this “easy read” as Sharon so accurately described it. One other bit of trivia: All the titles in the series are named after a quilt pattern! 320 pages.

Going to school for the first time can be fearful for some children. Here are four titles parents might find helpful in alleviating their son or daughter's fear:

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg. In this delightful story kids find out they are not the only one who gets scared when the first day of school turns up. So do teachers. But the discovery of who is under the bed-covers and refuses to get dressed for school turns out to be a surprise. The comical and colorful illustrations are great which is also a reason why this has become a bestseller since it's release in 2000. A 32-page fun read for all ages.

Dad's First Day by Mike Wohnutka. This is a 2015 title and certainly reflects our times with more Dad's working from home or making the effort to be more involved with their kids. As summer draws to a close a Dad and his son enjoy a few final fun times together and then prepare for the start of the new school year. But in this case the roles are reversed: Dad is the one afraid and the son is the calm one who must model for the adult all the wonderful, positive things that take place at school. Nice graphics in this 40 page story.

Spot Goes to School by Erik Hill. This is a spin off book from the popular title, Where's Spot. In this title the cute, scared Spot is hesitant to go to school but by day's end, after discovering so many happy things to do and see, he is eager to return. Graphics are simple and colorful, but it's the “lift the flap” feature that makes kids enjoy this series and want to read it again and again. 22 pages.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. This sweet story is about Chester, an anxious raccoon, who would rather stay home than go to school. His smart Mama tells him about the wonderful new things he'll get to enjoy and reassures him with a family secret: the kissing hand that will make his time at school seem like his cozy days at home. It's a lovely, thoughtful story, especially for any child fearful about going to school or facing a difficult separation. 24 pages.

I'm currently reading a novel, When Crickets Cry and working my way through two non-fiction titles that are challenging my views. I'll tell you about them next month when I recap what's on my nightstand.

Until then, how about you tell me about a book you enjoyed recently, or perhaps suggest a topic for a future blog post. I'm open to your ideas!



  1. Yay! I got a shout out for Earlene Fowler! I'm so glad you liked her! I've ordered the Susan Branch book on your recommendation. I'll let you know how I like it.

  2. Meant to tag you on FB so you'd know about the Fowler review right away but had a few distractions this week as you know. Hope you enjoy Branch's book. I've another friend reading it and she's also giving it a thumbs up.

  3. Always enjoy your book reviews, dear Julie! I'm currently reading Book 3 of The Glassblower Trilogy. These books have been great...all about glassblowers in Germany in the early 1900's. We've had family dysfunction, leaving Germany on forged papers, feminists, death, birth, all with a background of glass blowing. These are Kindle books for me but available from amazon as actual books, too. Highly recommend these.

  4. I've never heard of this trilogy nor do I know anything about glassblowing. Will see if my library has them in audio format or large print. My Dad was from Germany so this might be insightful and a way to learn about some history. Thanks!

  5. I finished reading your recommendation for Susan Branch's book on our vacation. I loved it and may be buying another of her books to read about how she met her second husband. I've added Martha's Vineyard to my bucket list as one of the places I want to visit. Thank you!

  6. Eager for you to see Martha's Vineyard up close and taken in all its charm. And start saving now as once you read "A Fine Romance" you'll want to follow in her steps and make a crossing of the Atlantic to jolly ol' England. Thanks for letting me know you loved the book!


Always happy to hear from anyone who stops by my blog.