Bite-size Book Reviews

These were all new, first-time reads for me, from some of my favorite authors. It was a nice variety of styles and time periods.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Random Acts of Murder by Christy BarrittRandom Acts of Murder, audiobook by Christy Barritt, read by Sandy Rustin

This book is the first in a new series. The heroine is appealing, with her good intentions, insecurities and quirky personality.  She fled the scene of a murder and now she’s being framed for it. The hero is an old high school classmate, all grown up and in charge of the murder investigation.  Ms. Barritt does a good job of pacing the mystery and concealing the identity of the killer.  I would have liked to see more about the heroine’s spiritual and physical conditions, but it is a light-hearted story with lots of other action.  The supporting characters seem interesting; I hope they are developed further in the rest of the series.


Snow on the Tulips by Liz TolsmaSnow on the Tulips, audiobook by Liz Tolsma, read by Susan Denaker

Ms. Tolsma has created a vivid portrait of a small Dutch village and its residents near the end of WWII. This is an intense, suspenseful story as much as a romance. The aggression of the Nazi troops was frightening and sad.  A fascinating theme was the relationships of the two sisters near the end of the story. They were both scared and heartbroken, begging their men to not leave them. One man would not fight or resist the enemy, and the other was active in the resistance movement.  The plights of the women, however, were the same.



A Lady of High Regard by Tracie PetersonA Lady of High Regard, audiobook by Tracie Peterson, read by Barbara Caruso

I liked the natural, dynamic family relationships in this book, and I found the heroine’s balanced behaviors refreshing. In spite of her belief that she was the only one who could save the world, she didn’t always rush headlong into dangers; sometimes she made a decision to be obedient and sensible. I would have liked to see the women from the docks portrayed with a little more intelligence and energy.  The story was a little slow at first, but it picked up momentum and the ending was exciting.



Buried Secrets by Irene HannonBuried Secrets, audiobook by Irene Hannon, read by Therese Plummer and Jennifer Grace

This is the first in Ms. Hannon’s new Men of Valor series. The romantic relationship is different in that almost as soon as they meet, the hero and heroine admit their attraction to each other and make it clear that they are not interested in a casual dating relationships. They can not become involved while they are working on the mystery, so they agree to wait to start seeing each other until the case is solved. It’s a nice twist on romantic suspense. The villain of the story, who is revealed almost immediately, is very villainous, creative and careful. The plot is revealed steadily. The ending, when the villain attacks the heroine, feels a little contrived, but otherwise it’s a solid story from one of my favorite authors.


A Matter of Character by Robin Lee HatcherA Matter of Character, audiobook by Robin Lee Hatcher, read by Kathy Garver

I read and enjoyed the first two books in this series – fluffy fun stuff – and picked up this one to finish the trilogy.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book was excellent! The characters were solid – much more complex than in the previous two books. There were so many interesting layers to the plot and such conflicting goals that it was hard to imagine a happy ending, but of course all the loose threads were gathered up nicely and tied in a bow.



How to get old people to talk to you

When I worked with elderly people, especially retired farmers or the veterans of WWII, I used to urge them to write or tell their stories to someone, because they would be of interest to future generations. None of them were enthusiastic about the idea. Some found the task overwhelming. That much concentrated mental exercise can be exhausting. Some of them just didn’t believe that they had anything interesting to say – no one would care. Some were too sad or too bitter to review it. Some of them felt that it was none of my business. 😉

A note here: I worked for an agency that provided care for elderly people. For the purpose of this article, I am talking about men and women who are over 90, usually in need of some physical or medical assistance and often living alone in their own homes or in assisted living facilities or nursing home. Comfortable company is a blessing to them, and they are glad to have someone to talk to, but conversation is often difficult. When you talk to an elderly person in this situation, remember that you are talking to an intelligent adult, addressing them with dignity and respect, but they may need help hearing you and time to formulate a response. Speak clearly, but not too loudly. Do not speak directly into their ear. Position yourself where they can see your face and read your lips to assist their hearing. Unless you know that their hearing is excellent, do not try to carry on a complex conversation while you are pushing their wheelchair or from another room. Give them time to respond. Don’t change the topic too quickly.

Most people like to talk about themselves if they are not put on the spot. Don’t ask them to come up with a story, but coax one out of them by asking simple questions, cued by observation. Don’t rush them or chatter. Don’t tell them about yourself unless you are very briefly agreeing with them, and then return immediately to their story. Obviously, don’t write things down while you are talking to them!

Photographs are helpful for this. Of people: “What a pretty girl! Is this her high school graduation picture?” “This boy looks excited about his bicycle. Was it a birthday gift?” “Is that a naval uniform? Do you have a tradition of military service in your family?” “Is this your wedding picture? Your wife was very beautiful. You look so young. Where did you get married?” Of places: “Where was this taken? Did you vacation there? Live there? Was this your farm? Did you live there all your life? What did you farm?” Things: “Wow! That’s a really neat car! What is it? Was it yours?” “What kind of dog is that? He’s so big! Was he yours? Was he nice? What did you call him? I’ve heard they need a lot of room to run.”

I said earlier that you should not tell them your own story while you are trying to encourage them to tell you theirs, but sometimes it keeps the conversation going.

You: “This is a beautiful old church. Did you go there?”
Man: “That’s Calvary Lutheran. My father built that church.”
You: “Oh, I’m Lutheran, too! Where is Calvary?”

You showed him that you were engaged in his story, but you don’t tell him all about your own church. Same with dogs.

You: “Is that a dalmatian? We had one of those! Her name was Suzy.”
Woman: “That’s Maisie. I had her until she was hit by a car ten years ago.”
You: “Oh that’s awful!”
(if the conversation stalls out)
You: “Maisie had a lot of spots! Was she a purebred?”

The best stories segue from simple conversations. Once, I asked a WWII nurse if she had been a nurse before she went into the army or if she had trained while she was already there. She told me about signing up with a few friends from her nursing school and taking a bus down south to where she was starting her army service. She told me it was her first experience with open racial prejudice and Jim Crow laws. She was shocked and wrote home about it. She said she received her one and only letter from her father then. He told her that racial prejudice was a sin and the laws were wrong. She went on to tell me about growing up in a racially diverse community. Her father was a butcher and treated everyone the same, with respect, and he was respected by everyone in return. She told me about his shop and the other shopkeepers nearby.

Later, I mentioned something about her father (maybe as I was preparing meat for her dinner). She talked about dinner at her home, saying that family devotions were held promptly after dinner and everyone was expected to be there. If there were guests in the house at the time, they were expected to join them for devotions. She said that she and her siblings were careful to invite their friends over for the time between devotions and bedtime. They sat on the porch and sang and talked. They wanted their friends to leave on time, however, because at 10:00, their father came through the house in his long johns, carrying a lantern and closing up the house for the night. It was very embarrassing for them, if their friends were still there!

Be attentive, but don’t pressure. Don’t interrupt. Only say as much as you need to, to let them know you are listening and interested. Don’t distract them with your own story or by changing the direction of their story. Encourage, but never push. Elderly people of the Greatest Generation have lived through an era of extreme change. Many of them plowed behind horses or grew up without electricity, telephone or indoor plumbing. They might have had an 8th grade education and gone on to become successful businessmen. They might have traveled the world before it was made simple by airplane. They had newsreels and newspapers instead of television and the internet (although they probably enjoyed those when they came along!)

Time is passing fast for this extraordinary generation. Soon we will lose them, and our children and grandchildren will only hear the the dry facts of history in their textbooks. Encourage our elders to talk now, while they can, so we can portray them accurately, as flesh-and-blood humans, to future generations.