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Where the Heart Leads, by Kim Vogel Sawyer

At last, Kim Vogel Sawyer has provided the long-anticipated sequel to Waiting for Summer’s Return.  There were a number of times I tried to guess where she would go with this next book, but Kim has proven that her creativity in plotting a new story is not predictable. 

Now a young man with a degree from an eastern college, Thomas Ollenburger seeks direction for his career.  Having seen more of the world than his sleepy little home town ever provided, he must sort through the proverbial wheat and chaff to discover what God has in store for him.  Mix in the distractions of two pretty but very different young women, family struggles back home, and the lure of journalism and politics, and Thomas finds himself challenged to define success as he fine-tunes his faith.  I think you will enjoy the surprises this story has in store.

For June

Currently I’m reading the JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) collection of essays for the year 2007.  The topic of each composition is EMMA.  I’m finding these musings on the clever Miss Emma Woodhouse to be fascinating and am enjoying the different perspectives on Emma and the cast of characters with whom she rubbed shoulders.  Though some of the opinions are more strongly represented than others, they all begin to build within me a greater respect for my real-life heroine, Jane Austen.

  As with any heroine, however, I wonder if she was aware of all the genius with which she is credited.  I rather think she had as least as much intuition as understanding in her very clever writings about the people she created for us to enjoy. More genius than she realized, I think.

May Reads

The Magnificent Ambersons

Jeanne Marie Leach’s newest release

coming soon: my review of Shadow of Danger

Books I’ve read lately:

My Heart RemembersThe following is my review on My Heart Remembers posted at

“Once I started reading MY HEART REMEMBERS I couldn’t put it down until the last page. It is exactly the sort of book that I haunt libraries and bookstores to find. Torn apart after being orphaned, three children face vastly different lives as they struggle with their past, their identities, and the near hopelessness of finding each other again. Kim Vogel Sawyer writes as one who knows people, especially relatives and the conflicts that can arise from the resulting connections. I come from a very large family, but whether you have many relatives or none at all, you will love the siblings in this story. They are true to life.”

This is the latest of Kim’s wonderful stories about ‘way back when’ and was based on the orphan trains of the past.  As so many others have confessed, I would like to read on about the continuing stories of these three characters’ lives.  Their personalities and talents would spawn great sequels.  (That’s a hint, Kim.)

The Romance of the Prairie

Geese in Flight

For many years I have loved to take drives out into rural North Dakota, my home state.  Fortunately for me, United Blood Services needs volunteer drivers to transport blood products from town to town.  They called me today, to make a 185-mile round trip through the snowy landscape under a leaden afternoon sky.  While there is nothing nicer than a sunny day nearly anywhere (come to ND in June!), I prefer to make long drives under cloud cover or in the dark.

We are having a reprieve, after sub-zero temperatures last week, several inches of snow since then, and the upcoming stormy weather that is forecast.  Skimming down the interstate at the posted 75 mph, I was still able to do a little of the proverbial ‘smelling of roses’ as I drove along.  And as usual, I couldn’t keep my mind from wondering how those early pioneers to the area left known civilization for this harsh climate to survive on our northern prairies.

They are only a couple generations back, those hardy souls who inhabited the land with only a sod house or shanty for protection.  Some, understandably, couldn’t take it and left.  But enough people from all walks of life, poor immigrants to French aristocrats, answered the singular lure of the vast plains and settled in their fashion these empty but haunting lands. 

As I drove by, I gazed upon several gray old abandoned farms visible from the interstate and wondered about the lives that were led there.  I took in the snowy, sweeping hills and endless gullies bisected by modern highway and wished I could stop time. I imagined I could wander into the bowls of land out of sight from any human eyes, and hear nothing but the wind stirring our long prairie grasses.

Romantic?  Yes, but not realistic.  I wonder if I, who prefer to hide out the heat waves of July and August in air-conditioned comfort, would have been one to stay and fight to make a home or to leave on the next train back east.  Mosquitoes come after me as if I have a thousand red bull’s eyes painted on my skin. 

Give me jacket weather, I always say, in temps of 25 to 65, and I am comfortable.

One more word about today’s drive.  As I climbed a gradual hill near the exit to Lefor, my eyes rested on the magnificent Geese in Flight metal sculpture that contrasted the gray sky and brought a big smile to my face.  Could my immigrant ancestors ever have guessed one of their farmer-descendants would discover the creativity to produce giant works of art out of scrap metal, honoring the poetry of nature and nature’s God?  Cousin Gary, I’m proud of you.

BLESSINGS by Kim Vogel Sawyer, Bethany House 2008

Blessings (Sommerfeld Trilogy #3)I’ve just finished BLESSINGS by Kim Vogel Sawyer.  Third in a contemporary series about a Mennonite community in Kansas, Blessings is the story of Trina Muller’s struggle between her very conservative faith and her heart’s calling to be a veterinarian.  Practically unheard of for a girl in Sommerfeld, she yearns to complete high school and college.  The resistance she meets and the unhappiness this conflict causes make Trina question the rightness of her decisions.  Nearly everyone she knows, from her dear family to her boyfriend Graham, opposes the idea of a Mennonite woman with such worldly aspiriations.  How can she justify her calling to be a vet with her church’s demands she be a stay-at-home-mother and wife?  In her heart, she wants to be an obediant Mennonite.  Yet her mind is eager to learn and to help her community as a veterinarian to their animals. 

Throughout this story I was kept in suspense as to how the author would solve Trina’s continuing conflict.  As she has in her many novels, Kim Sawyer carefully handles the intricacies of family and friend relationships in the face of incompatible ideals.  Her protagonists embody the words of Jesus to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. 

JUST JANE by Nancy Moser, 2007 Bethany House

Just Jane book cover

I have to admit I was skeptical that a writer could get inside Jane Austen’s head well enough to produce a convincing first-person POV account of her life. After all, those of us who love her stories and have researched her life have our own ideas of what she was really like, this genius author whose Regency-era novels have become so well-loved. I was cautious, prepared to be disappointed that Moser would fall short, but once into it I happily forgot my misgivings and enjoyed the book thoroughly.

Just Jane encompasses about twenty years of Jane Austen’s life and presents a delightful introduction to her inner thoughts as she comes into adulthood, facing her own heart issues as well as her attempts to become published. I believe Moser’s major inspiration comes from Jane’s letters to her sister Cassandra, which added to the authenticity of the story.  Moser’s own literary license is documented as an appendix after the novel.  This book is a keeper.  My only problem with it falls within the category of wishful thinking…it should have been twice as long.

Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Light and Dark by Mort Rosenblum

Chocolate a Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light book cover“Nine out of every ten persons say they love chocolate. The tenth lies.”

The above quote is attributed to Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, French epicure and gastronome.  Though it may be an exaggeration, chocolate has become a $60 billion industry, according to writer Mort Rosenblum.  In CHOCOLATE, A BITTERSWEET SAGA OF DARK AND LIGHT, Rosenblum presents a layman’s understanding of the history and origin of one of the world’s favorite foods.  Once used as currency, the humble cacao seed has spawned a craze that took the Aztecs by storm long before Christopher Columbus had his first taste of’ ‘xocoatl .’ Enter Cortes, Spanish and French royalty, Jesuits, Dutch smugglers and English chocolate houses… and don’t forget Switzerland and Belgium… and within a few centuries it became the widespread delight we know of today.

If this book doesn’t whet your appetite for the sumptuous confection, you must be one of Brillat-Savarin’s ten percent.

On the flip side Rosenblum has been criticized for an absence of documentation and for a lack of continuity throughout the book.  Still, if you love chocolate but aren’t an expert, this is one way to start learning.