“Here Burns My Candle” Blog Book Tour

I have been waiting for Liz Curtis Higgs’ new book, Here Burns My Candle, for years. Literally. Her last Scottish novel, Grace in Thine Eyes, came out in March 2006, and ever since, I have been anxiously awaiting whatever she had in store next. If WaterBrook hadn’t kindly provided me with a copy (a pre-release, no less! A dream come true for me!), I certainly would have pre-ordered it from Amazon. Obviously, my expectations for the book were high.

I was once again astounded by Liz’s attention to detail–particularly her use of Scottish dialect and knowledge of Scottish history, among other things. Her characters, as always, are interesting, likable, flawed, and very, very real.

The story was very engaging. It focuses on the well-to-do Kerr family–matriarch Marjory, her two sons, Donald, who is the source of much gossip for his many rumored affairs, and Andrew, and their wives, Elisabeth, whose lowly past and secret pagan life make her an unlikely match for the aristocratic Donald, and Janet, whose life’s purpose is to be a high society woman.

The story takes place around the Jacobite uprising in Scotland, with Elisabeth being sympathetic to the cause of Bonny Prince Charlie, and the men of her family eventually also deciding to join in the uprising. Parts of the story follow the Biblical narrative of Ruth (but only through verse 18 of chapter one), and other parts illustrate a story you might expect to hear from the descendants of a Scottish family who lived through these events, and all the repercussions said events would have on a family, from social status to finances.

All that being said, I was disappointed with one thing. This is supposed to be Biblical fiction–a retelling of the story of Ruth in a 18th century Scottish setting. I didn’t feel that the book was able to delve into the Biblical account nearly enough–there was so much backstory and character development that you could almost forget that it’s supposed to be based on a Bible story until the end of the book. As far as flat-out historical fiction, this book is excellent, but as Biblical fiction, it was a bit lacking. I’m hoping that problem will be corrected in the sequel, Mine is the Night, coming out next spring. I know I’ll be counting down the days until then!

I Have a Plan!

So, after spending the last several weeks going through homeschooling catalogs and websites of all kinds, as well as talking to people online, I think I have a plan for this year!

We’re going to start with Sonlight K, but not the newcomer package, because I decided to use A Reason for Handwriting instead of Handwriting Without Tears, which is what comes with the newcomer set. (And how much does all this agonizing I’ve done over handwriting curriculum even matter? Everybody is typing nowadays. But they still need to learn to write properly!) I realize that most people who have tried Handwriting Without Tears have loved it, but I really prefer the more traditional look that is taught in A Reason for Handwriting, and I also like that the practice is done with Bible verses (even it is selections from the Living Bible. *sigh* I’ll have to see how the lessons are presented, and how easy it would be to substitute with the ESV). So, my big challenge is going to be making sure I order everything else that would have come in the newcomer package, just switching out the handwriting materials, and also adding Ready, Set, Go for the Code for additional learning to read help.

I know some people would probably recommend starting with the P 4/5 curriculum, since I’m going to be working with a four and five year old. But I’ve been over both the K and the P 4/5 materials many times, and I really think they would both be bored with the 4/5 stuff. I don’t want to sound like the typical bragging parent, but both of my older children are pretty advanced, which was partly the reason we decided to homeschool, so they could be more challenged, and I think they know most of the stuff from the 4/5 curriculum. I guess at worst we end up stretching out or repeating the K curriculum, but I really don’t think it’s going to be an issue.

As long as homeschooling goes well this year, and I feel comfortable with what I’m doing, I may look into switching out other parts of the curriculum. Not the core, obviously, because that’s the best part of Sonlight–all of the reading, and the natural learning method as far as history, geography, etc., goes. In the future, though, especially if I actually get to a curriculum fair, I think I may want to try Apologia for science (maybe starting at grade two, so I can do the astronomy, botany, and three zoology texts before general science hits in seventh grade), because I always loved science in grade school (and high school and college for that matter, except for physics, but that’s a whole other story!) and the Apologia curriculum looks really cool!

I’m also hoping to get a chance to compare Saxon math to the Horizons curriculum that Sonlight recommends, because I know it’s a tried and true method, and a lot of homeschoolers use it, so I figure I should at least check it out. Hopefully I can make that decision before we start grade one next year–that way I won’t end up doubling up on manipulatives sets (I know I could put together my own, but that idea is still intimidating to a new homeschooler like me!).

Eventually I know I’m going to want to move away from the religion that Sonlight provides, as well. I’m already adding the Lutheran Children’s ESV to our materials for this year, to beef up the Bible curriculum that they provide, and maybe some Arch books, too. I’m OK with Sonlight’s offerings (supplemented by CPH material) up through about grade two or three, but then they A.) start using Bible translations I’m not fond of, and 2.) start teaching some stuff that could be contradictory to Lutheran theology, at least from what I can tell so far. I can always fall back on CPH’s dayschool religion curriculum or *gasp* prepare my own–I was a DCE before children, after all, so if there’s anything I should be able to create on my own, that would be it!

The reading, read-alouds and Language Arts all look good to me, so no worries about replacing those. The electives look pretty good, too–certainly more about music and art appreciation than I ever learned in the early elementary years. And while I’m not using Sonlight’s number one recommendation for handwriting, and I may decide on different math and science, all of those materials are still available to order through Sonlight (and I think still eligible for the member discount), so except for the religion materials, it appears I can keep all of my business in one place. Very convenient!

I’m most excited about Sonlight’s core, though–I can’t believe how much we’ll be reading! I think I’ve looked at the book lists for almost every grade, and there are so many familiar books from my childhood that I can’t wait to share with my children. And I love the way they use “real” books to teach history, instead of just dry textbooks. I know I remember much more from the stories I read as a child, whether they were true, or just entertaining fiction, than I do from any textbook I read. I know this isn’t the only way of learning, but it is the one that makes the most sense to me, so I’m especially happy Sonlight has put together such a nice curriculum for me–I wouldn’t even know where to start doing this on my own!

I can’t believe we’ve actually made the decision to homeschool. I certainly never saw myself as a homeschooling parent. Then again, our family has always been a little unorthodox, so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised that this seems to be such a good fit for us–we’re good at going against the grain! I’m especially grateful to my husband, because he was obviously listening to me, (at times when I didn’t even realize I was talking!), and was open minded enough not only to consider this, but to actually do a complete 180 on his opinions on homeschooling. I never even would have seriously considered homeschooling without his support, but I feel that with God calling me to do this, and Ryan’s encouragement, I’ve been set free to do something I always wanted to do, without even really knowing it at the time.

Book Review: “The Potluck Club”

This review will focus not only on the book “The Potluck Club,” but on the whole three book series of the same name, all written by the duo of Linda Evans Shepherd and Eva Marie Everson. The other two books are “The Potluck Club: Trouble’s Brewing” and “The Potluck Club Takes the Cake.”

I read the first book of the series back sometime last fall. I got it from the library, along with the book “She’s All That” from the Spa Girls trilogy by Kristin Billerbeck. I had not heard of either of the series before, and only vaguely heard of the authors, but they both popped up on a “if you like this book, you might like these” kind of recommendation from Amazon. I started the series with low expectations, partly because I was very disappointed with “She’s All That” (another review for another time), and partly because it didn’t take me long to realize that most of the main characters in the book were my mother’s age, if not older, and I wasn’t sure that I would find anything appealing about it, or that I would have anything in common with the characters. I didn’t have to read very far into the first book to realize that despite the age difference, I could really relate to, and laugh and cry with, the ladies of the Potluck Club.

The series takes place in and around the small town of Summit View, Colorado, and the scenes were written so well that I could almost see the mountains and breathe in the fresh air. I especially liked the winter scenes, (even a rather frightening avalanche!) because I could just see the majestic beauty of the snow-covered terrain.

What I liked most about these books was the way the authors dealt with hard, real-life issues, even amid the laughter and crazy antics of the club ladies. Topics such as pregnancy out of wedlock, infidelity, and even abortion, were dealt with, and given the proper amounts of suffering, as well as grace under the Gospel. Other hard topics, such as adoption, inter-racial marriage in a time that did not tolerate such things, loneliness and alcoholism were dealt with equally well. The characters did not have perfect lives, did not always make good choices, and, in fact, at least one of the main characters isn’t sure she’s really a Christian at all.

The whole trilogy takes place in a short amount of time–less than a year. So much happens in each of the books that it’s hard to believe that such a short period of time is covered. Each of the six main characters has her own story, some of which are intertwined with each other. Evie deals with a long-suffering, not-so-unrequited love, and a unexpectedly pregnant niece who arrives suddenly. Newcomer to town Lisa Leann schemes to take over the potluck club, ensuring that she’s not making too many friends along the way. Goldie, the high school coach’s wife realizes that she can’t live with the knowledge of her husband’s infidelity any longer. Donna deals with a her immense dislike of Evie, (who also happens to be best friend’s with Donna’s surrogate mother), while doing her job as a deputy and dealing with hard issues from her past. Vonnie has a secret so big that even her husband and best friend are unaware of it, and she finds out that even she didn’t know the whole truth. Lizzie is solid as a rock, even as she deals with family issues of her own.

The characters were all very real–not the phony, life is all sweetness and light, rainbows and butterflies that you find in a lot of Christian fiction. They experienced real emotions, both good and bad, and had very real relationships, also both good and bad, with each other and others in town. The fringe characters were also very likable, particularly newspaper reporter Clay; David, a stranger with secret; Leigh, Evie’s niece; and Jan, the beloved pastor’s wife who was battling cancer.

I loved these books, and give them a five star rating. Although I got the first book from the library, I knew that I would want them for my personal collection, and ended getting the whole trilogy as a Christmas gift, at which point, I dove in, and finally finished the series. It was a long wait in between the first and second books! The story didn’t end with book three, however–a new series, “The Potluck Catering Club”, is being written, and the first book, “The Secret’s in the Sauce,” is scheduled to come out September 1. Given that there were many loose ends left at the end of the first trilogy, there is plenty of material left to be covered in the new series, and I’m sure other story lines will also be introduced. I already have my copy pre-ordered on Amazon–I can’t wait to find out what the ladies of the club do next!