Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts

936 Pennies Review - Recommended!



I somehow found Erin Lynum on Twitter a few years ago, and I specifically remember clicking through to her blog and reading her post about receiving a jar of 936 pennies as she dedicated her baby at her church.  The 936 pennies represented the weeks she would have with her baby from birth until their 18th birthday.  In that post she challenged moms to make sure they were spending their 936 pennies well.  That idea stuck with me, so when I saw this book, I knew exactly who had written it and I snagged it!

I would classify 936 Pennies: Discovering The Joy Of Intentional Parenting as memoir/encouragement for moms.  Erin shares a lot of her own mothering journey and ways she has learned to "spend her pennies well" over the years.  She doesn't get preachy or tell you what you "should" do, but instead presents her personal experiences as an encouragement and challenge to parent intentionally, with the passing of time in the forefront of our minds.  Her kids are about the same age or perhaps slightly younger than mine, so while there were certain sections that I no longer struggle with as much, I could deeply relate to 95% of the book.

There were a couple little quibbles I had here and there with how she worded certain things, but I can definitely say this book is solid doctrinally and is thoroughly grounded by biblical truth and the gospel.  She doesn't just focus on superficial suggestions to make our days smoother or more fun, but she digs down deep into what it means to parent our children with not just 936 pennies but eternity in mind.  I especially enjoyed the chapters toward the end about memory-making and keeping (something I spent some time writing about last fall), and about how we can gain some time back by using technology well.

I highly, highly recommend this book!  I found myself so encouraged to invest in my kids and put some of my own strategies in place to use my time with them in a way that will matter for eternity.  I also think this would make an excellent baby shower or first birthday party gift, along with a jar of 936 pennies, of course.  If you are a mom, check this one out!

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

Homeschool Curriculum: First Grade In Review

(Note: Some affiliate links below.)

I sat down and counted up our school days the other day and realized we have less than 20 days left before we hit our required number of homeschool days.  That means I'm less than a month away from having my first true year of homeschooling under my belt! (I am not counting kindergarten.)

Last year before we started I shared all about my curricula picks for first grade.  So how did all that work out for me?  Here's the breakdown:

Math

What We Started With: Rightstart Math

What We Ended With: Rightstart Math

I have zero complaints about this curriculum!  Rightstart has an unusual method and order for teaching math, but I was really impressed it.  I love how it teaches underlying math concepts, instead of just rote memorization!  This curriculum was such a good fit for my teaching style and Wyatt's learning style! We love all the manipulatives, the way it reinforces concepts through games, and the focus on teaching kids to visualize numbers in their heads.  It is so much more enjoyable for Wyatt and myself than doing endless math problems and worksheets.  I am really happy with it, and will use it with all my kids as long as it fits their learning styles!

What We'll Use Next Year: Rightstart




Reading

What We Started With: 100 Easy Lessons and Rod And Staff

What We Ended With: All About Reading

As we were entering the school year last fall, I knew we were going to be finishing up 100 Easy Lessons before the year was out...so I knew I'd have to shift to something else.  We limped along with 100 Easy Lessons until I had Georgie, and to be honest, by the end we were kind of hating it.  I really love the first half of that book, which takes your child from knowing nothing to reading sentences.  However, by the time we got about 75% of the way through the book we were really bored and frustrated.  I was also a little irritated because that book took forever to introduce all the letters/sounds, and didn't go over all the rules I wanted to teach Wyatt.  It got him reading, but by the time Georgie was born we were fighting through the lessons and I was ready for something different.

We were loving our math curriculum so much because it had different activities and manipulative to go with each lesson, so I was wanting something more like that for reading.  I did a little research and decided to give All About Reading a try.  I've heard so many good things about it (and it was recommended by a great blog friend too!), so I ordered our level and got started.  Wyatt flew through that whole curriculum in a few months and we both stopped dreading reading so much!  It gave him so much confidence, so it was definitely the right call!

In the end, I don't regret starting with 100 Easy Lessons, because I still think that book has the best method for teaching blending that I have come across.  Blending is only covered in one lesson in All About Reading, and if your kid doesn't naturally get it, 100 Easy Lessons would be a great resource.  I think the reason we got through AAR so quickly was because we started with 100 Easy Lessons.  For my other kids, I will probably start them on 100 Easy Lessons and then switch halfway through the book instead of suffering through the last half.

What We'll Use Next Year: All About Reading





Writing/LA

What We Started With: First Language Lessons, 100 Bible Verses To Read And Write
What We Ended With: 100 Bible Verses To Read And Write

I took a more casual approach to writing and language arts this year, since the language arts priority was solidifying reading skills.  We did copy work (mostly with the 100 Bible Verses book) and wrote notes to family members for writing.  For language arts concepts, we had plans to use First Language Lessons - but if I'm honest, we hardly used it at all.  We talked about some LA concepts as we were doing All About Reading, and I'll review a few things over the summer with Wyatt before we start a more structured writing program this fall.

What We'll Use Next Year: TBD



Science


What We Ended With: Apologia Flying Creatures, BFSU, and random library books

I'm going to be honest and tell you that science kind of took a backseat with the whole having-a-baby thing this year.  I had so many grand plans to do all the experiments in our Apologia science book, the science activities in BFSU.  I was going to be a science-super-mom!

However, after Georgie was born I just was not organized enough to plan a bunch of experiments and do a really organized study - so we ended up going through a few random sections of Apologia and BFSU (according to whatever looked interesting), and grabbing coordinating books from the library.  We did a couple field trips, and a couple science experiments - all interest led though, not really what was in the books.   We kind of just went flying by the seat of our pants!  I'm actually quite happy with how this turned out.  Science at this level is mostly to get kids interested anyway, and I'm fine with that!  My plan is to do a few more science activities this summer to introduce different concepts that I really wanted to cover this year, and then start fresh in the fall.

What We'll Do Next Year: Stay Tuned, I'm figuring that out now.



History

What We Started With: Beautiful Feet Books

What We Ended With: Beautiful Feet Books

I love this curriculum!  For history I knew I wanted a literature-based approach to American History, so we chose the Early American History set from Beautiful Feet Books.  There are all kinds of suggested activities in the study guide, but we have really just read the books and done coordinating field trips this year.  We are stretching this curriculum out for two years instead of just one, so we are finishing up half the curriculum this year, and we'll finish it next year.  We haven't covered a huge range of historical events, but what we have covered I feel that we've covered well - my kids have retained a lot of what we've read this year.  It makes my heart happy every time they see a historical reference somewhere else and exclaim "It's just like in our book!"

What We'll Use Next Year: We are continuing with Beautiful Feet Books Early American History for sure, and may throw in another set (possibly the World History set from BFB or Story Of The World).

Bible

What We Started With: ?

What We Ended With: CBS

If you remember, I was a little unsure of what we would use for a Bible curriculum.  I had a really hard time finding something I was satisfied with, and I honestly just gave up searching as I approached my due date.  Then after Christmas we attended a visitor day at our local Community Bible Study, and I loved it! I did CBS growing up, and I forgot how thorough and deep the lesson books are.  This will basically be our Bible curriculum from here on out.  Once the kids reach grade school, they get their own lesson book that coordinates with the adult lesson books, which I love!  We work through the passage together and then attend our CBS meeting each week to discuss with others, so it's a social opportunity and Bible curriculum all in one!

What We'll Do Next Year:  CBS

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I'll do a more in-depth post soon about what we will be doing next year for 2nd grade and kindergarten!  But in the meantime, I've been searching for books to read for me over this summer.  I like to read a few homeschool-related books in the summer to keep my motivation up and give me ideas.  If I get a good list going I'll write another post, but I'm excited about this one:



My blog friend Elizabeth is also one of my favorite homeschool bloggers - she gives so much inspiration, ideas, and encouragement on her site.  Well, she wrote a new ebook called Lifestyle Homechooling, and it's launching today!  I'm really excited to pick this one up, because I'd say "lifestyle homeschooling" is a perfect term for what I'm going for in our homeschool.  This past year I have been loving how flexible homeschooling is, how I'm able to work it into our family life and fit it into the life stage we are in right now with a baby.  I'm looking forward to getting some ideas from Lifestyle Homeschooling - definitely check it out!

(Note: I am part of the launch team for Lifestyle Homeschooling, and will be receiving a free copy of the book in exchange.  Follow me on Goodreads to see my eventual review!)


A Book On Prayer You Should Read

(Affiliate link below.)


Prayer is not something that comes naturally to me. I constantly struggle to fit in dedicated time for prayer, and then once I have it, I struggle to make my prayer time really meaningful. Any time I have a chance to read a book on prayer that I think will be actually helpful, I snag it.

The Prayer That Turns The World Upside Down by R. Albert Mohler Jr. is a book that focuses on the Lord's prayer, and specifically why this prayer was so radical in Jesus's time (and now as well!). Mohler takes each line of Jesus's prayer in Matthew, and explains it in detail, including the theological truths that Jesus was communicating through each line.   I honestly never thought about the actual theology communicated through the Lord's prayer, even though I've had it memorized since I was a child. 

I found this book not only fascinating, but also very practical when it comes to figuring out WHAT to pray. So often I get stuck in praying about things that feel trivial, and then not really knowing what else to say. The Lord's prayer is a wonderful basis for directing us to the things we truly should be praying for, and this book really inspires you to actually spend time praying about the things that Jesus told the disciples to pray.  After each chapter I found myself closing my eyes and taking a minute to apply what I was learning. 

This is a book that I'll refer back to again and again - I already have so many passages highlighted that I want to go back to now that I've read the whole thing! Highly, highly recommend if you find yourself stagnating in your prayer life.  I think it will inspire you to focus your prayers on things that will last, obeying Jesus's example and honoring God in the process.

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a review. This is my honest opinion.


What I Read In March | 2018



Now that we're halfway through April - let's talk about what I read in March!  If you follow me on Goodreads, you have probably already seen a bunch of these.  Prepare yourself for one very unpopular opinion.






Books I Mentioned:

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L'Engle
Chronicles Of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
When Is It Right To Die? by Joni Eareckson Tada
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
What Came From The Stars by Gary D. Schmidt
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt
Bachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman
Answers For Homeschooling by Israel Wayne
The Reformation by Stephen J. Nichols
Anne Of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
Emily Of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

What are you reading these days?


When Is It Right To Die Review - Highly Recommend



(Affiliate link below.)

I live in a state with legalized assisted suicide, so when I saw When Is It Right To Die? by Joni Eareckson Tada up for review I thought it would be a really helpful read. I knew Joni Eareckson Tada is a voice on these subjects that I would truly respect, and I was looking forward to hearing what she had to say.


If you are interested in thinking on the subject of assisted suicide and other end-of-life decisions from a Christian perspective, I HIGHLY recommend this book. This book addresses not only those who might be considering assisted suicide, but those, like me, who are wanting to look at this subject in a God-honoring way.

Joni not only doesn’t preach in this book, but she presents a truly compassionate look at these subjects while remaining uncompromising. She addresses those who may be facing suffering or death with compassion and a challenge to use every day to God’s glory, and she addresses those around these people to consider the situation with compassion and biblical truth. She speaks from personal experience on both sides of these circumstances, and I don’t think you will find a more well-balanced Christian approach to end-of-life decisions than in this book.

As someone who is strongly against assisted suicide, I especially appreciated this book because it made me look at the whole subject with more compassion. Joni challenges you to think about the real people who are facing suffering and death, to put yourself in their shoes, to imagine yourself as their friend, and to consider how you would handle these things in a Christ-honoring way.

I also personally found some of her distinctions in the last section interesting as she addressed end-of-life decisions, and she made me realize I really should sit down and write an Advance Health Care Directive. Even though I’m healthy and don’t expect to die soon, you just never know. People get in care accidents every day, and it’s important to think about the potential healthcare decisions that could be made and how to approach these things in a way that glorifies God, should a difficult ending be part of my story.

I highly recommend this book for every Christian to read. It’s not a happy subject, it’s not one that’s “fun" to read about, but I think it’s important to think about these things from a biblical perspective - both for the sake of those who may be facing these kind of issues, and for ourselves should we, God forbid, face them ourselves on day.

Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

What I've Been Reading! January And February Books



Last year I had full intentions of doing a recap of the books I've been reading each month.  I had the same intentions this year.  You know what they say about good intentions...

But nevertheless, I decided to just squeeze in book updates where I can this year, and I wanted to try something a little different by doing a vlog instead!  Here is the first installment:



Books I mentioned in this video:

(affiliate links below) 

Why I Didn't Rebel by Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach Hello Mornings by Kat Lee Love And First Sight by Josh Sundquist Murder On The Links by Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen I See You by Clare Mackintosh Castle Of Water by Dane Hucklebridge The Discipline Of Spiritual Discernment by Tim Challies
The Lost Art Of Reading Nature's Signs by Tristan Gooley
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
Bear Sees Colors by Karma Wilson
I mentioned getting a book recommendation from a blog friend, and that would be Rachel at A Country Vicar's Wife. Hop over to her blog and say hi!

Also, you can follow me on Goodreads here if you want to be in the know before I put these videos together.

What have you all read so far this year? Have you read any of these?


The Year Of Reading Challenges - Book List For 2018



I don't really make New Year's resolutions, and I kind of gave up on the word-of-the-year thing (for now at least).  But one thing I do enjoy is making reading goals for the year!  You all know how much I love books, so these kinds of New Year goals are less burdensome and more fun.

I have three basic goals for this year:



3. Read 75 books this year.

I read a lot of books anyway, so 75 books won't be too much of a stress.  It comes out to about one more book a month, which I'm hoping will challenge me to spend those spare moments less on scrolling my phone and more on flipping through pages on my Kindle.  But looking at my reading list over the last year, I think I could increase the quality of the books I read.  I'm hoping participating in both of these challenges will help me pay more attention to the kind of books I'm reading, so I can make sure I'm actually growing in some way from my reading.  I especially hope to read better quality fiction books (even though I know I'll still have some light reads on the fiction side, because sometimes you just need some chick lit).  Here are the categories for both of these challenges, and my preliminary picks (which I can almost guarantee will change, but it's good to have a plan).


Jaime Balmet's Christian Women Reading Challenge

I listen to Jaime's podcast and really enjoy it, and I'm looking forward to her reading podcast that will start sometime this year!  Her challenge focuses mostly on Christian non-fiction, and I'm hoping to read some winners in these categories this year!

Practical Homemaking - Three Books

1. Hello Mornings by Kat Lee (already completed, see review here).
2. The More Of Less by Josh Becker (I own the audiobook.)
3. How To Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana White

Biblical Womanhood/Marriage - Three Books

1. Housewife Theologian: How The Gospel Interrupts The Ordinary by Aimee Byrd
2. Twelve Extraordinary Women by John MacArthur
3. Women Living Well by Courtney Joseph

Parenting/Family Life - Four Books

1. Why I Didn't Rebel by Rebecca Lindenbach (completed - I'll count it here, but it wasn't my favorite. See review here.)
2. Reset For Parents by Todd Friel
3. 30 Ways To Save Your Family In 30 Days by Rebecca Hagelin
4. Six Ways To Keep The Good In Your Boy by Dannah Gresh (I read the companion to this one about girls and it was great.)

5. Successful Christian Parenting by John MacArthur or Loving The Little Years by Rachel Jankovic (Bonus books since the first book in this category wasn't my favorite.  Both would be re-reads - I know they're good!)

Christian Living - Six Books

1.  You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith (I already started this book and it is excellent!)
2. Adopted For Life by Russel Moore (I own this one and have wanted to read it for a while.)
3. Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges
4.  How Then Shall We Live? by Chuck Colson  (I own it, haven't read it.)
5.  Brass Heavens: Reasons For Unanswered Prayer by Paul Tautges
6. Glimpses Of Grace by Gloria Furman (I own it, but I'm not sure if I'm a fan of Furman's style.  I'll give this one a try.)

Theology - Four Books

1. None Like Him by Jen Wilkin (To buy!  I really liked the other book I read by Wilkin, and her Bible studies are great.)
2. Your God Is Too Small by J. B. Phillips (A classic my pastor mentioned years ago that I have wanted to read.)
3. Expository Listening by Ken Ramey
4. The Work Of Christ by R.C. Sproul


Biography - Two Books

1. A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, And A Great War by Joseph Loconte
2. Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxes (I have the audiobook, which is an ideal way to get through biographies in my opinion.)

Finances - Two Books

1. More Than Just Making It by Erin Odom (Started it, great so far.)
2. Love Your Life Not Theirs by Rachel Cruz

Christian Classic - One Book

1. Out Of The Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis (the one fiction book on this list, but it counts, right?)

Church History - One Book

1. Still trying to figure this one out.  Suggestions?



Modern Mrs Darcy Challenge

Anne's blog is probably the most prominent book blog out there.  This reading challenge looked fun - I decided to add this challenge into the mix this year since it seems to be more conducive to picking fiction.  Here are her categories, and what I might pick for each.

A Classic You've Been Meaning To Read

-So many choices...I will probably either go with A Tree Grows In Brooklyn or To Kill A Mockingbird.

A Book Recommended By Someone With Great Taste

-Throw me some suggestions, people!

A Book In Translation

-I'm struggling with this one.  I'm thinking of trying My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.

A Book Nominated For An Award In 2018

-To be determined when the nominations are actually made.  But I'll probably be going for a Newberry because I like Children's books for this category since I think they will have less of a chance of being political statements.

A Book Of Poetry, A Play, Or An Essay Collection

-I'm strongly considering tackling a Shakespeare play, since I've never actually read Shakespeare.  Have any of you?

A Book You Can Read In A Day

-I'm just going to fill this in with Love And First Sight by Josh Sundquist, since I already read it and it's definitely doable in a day.  Read my review here.

A Book That's More Than 500 Pages

-Started The Brother's Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, which could also technically count for "a book in translation".  I'm planning on reading a chapter a day until I finish it, which is absolutely doable.  This book is more interesting so far than I thought it would be!

A Book By A Favorite Author

-Definitely The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, which was a gift for Christmas from my dear friend Felicia!  

A Book Recommended By A Librarian Or Bookseller

-To be determined when I get up the nerve to actually ask a librarian for a recommendation.

A Banned Book

-Either To Kill A Mockingbird or Fahrenheit 411, both of which I've started and haven't finished because of my bookish ADD.

A Memoir, Biography, Or Book Of Creative Non-Fiction

-It is very likely this category will change, but I'm hoping to either do Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior (about Hannah Moore) or John Adams by David McCullough.

A Book By An Author Of A Different Race/Ethnicity/Religion Than You

-I've been wanting to read more stories from people who escaped North Korea, so I'll be going with The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee for this one.


Both of those challenges should take me through about about 38 books, which means I'll have 37 other books to complete.  I may double up in some categories or do some of Tim Challies reading challenge to keep me reading books that will grow me throughout the year.

What is on your reading list for 2018?  Any recommendations for me?







18 Books I Would Recommend From My 2017 Shelf



At the end of December, or the first week of January at the latest, everyone posts their favorite books from 2017.  But the fact that I'm posting mine now, solidly in the middle of January, just means that it will stand out more, right?  I'm going to pretend the late date of this post was done purposefully for this reason!  Aren't I so smart?

This last year was a pretty good reading year for me, overall.  I didn't read too many duds, and I have a fairly substantial list of books I think were well worth my time, and yours!  Let's just get started, because this will be a long post.  

The non-fiction list is much longer than the fiction list.  I'm hoping to read more end-of-year-post worthy fiction in 2018.  Click on the links to read my more extensive reviews on Goodreads (including content warnings where applicable).

Non-Fiction

Strange Fire: The Danger Of Offending The Holy Spirit With Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur

I had been reading this book through 2016, and finally finished it in 2017.  This book is basically a critique of the modern charismatic movement, particularly the branches that are theologically and biblically unsound (I'm not saying everyone who labels themselves "charismatic" would fall in this group, but it is worth a careful evaluation).  I think MacArthur comes off a bit harsh at times, but I couldn't disagree with anything he said, and I think there is definitely reason for concern about the charismatic movement.  Worth a read because we all should have our eyes open on these issues.


I listened to this as an audiobook, and I regretted not buying a paper copy because I would have been highlighting all over the place!  I love how Wilkin walks us through different pitfalls to avoid in studying the Bible and outlines a sound method for Bible study.  The paperback is definitely on my list to buy, so next time I can go through it with highlighter in hand.


I wish this book was a little more focused so I could give a better summary of it here, but I guess I'll just say that it addresses problems with women's ministries and the way women are often viewed in church, all mixed in with a call to discernment.  It got five stars from me specifically because of the challenge to discernment, and it made me realize the areas that I have been a little lazy with discernment.


One of my more intellectual reads of the year, this book series presents different world religions and what they believe, but does it from a biblical perspective.  It presents Christianity, how these different religions differ from the Christian belief system, and how to witness to people who may be involved in these different religions.  I'm collecting this whole series for my own information, and also to use as a religion/apologetics study for my kids when they reach high school.


This book tackles some tough topics surrounding gender, but I thought it was biblically grounded and really deep.  It gave me so much to think about, and I particularly found the chapter on motherhood to be encouraging.


One of those books that made me want to say "THANK YOU!" throughout, but it also made me think about many of these stories from the Bible in a different way.  Very grounded in a proper interpretation of Scripture, and I thought his tips for avoiding misinterpreting Scripture were right on.



The information in this book was based on a survey of adults who went to church as a child but no longer do, and it was completely fascinating.  Lots of solid information here that parents can apply to training their children, picking a church, etc.  It also may have you thinking about ways you may have compromised God's word, and how that might be affecting your kids.  A great, and possibly convicting, read.


A pleasant reading surprise, this book talks about the biblical view of work, and how our work in the home (which often seems mundane) brings glory to God.  I wished I had read this a year earlier when I was struggling with no longer working outside the home!  I listened to the audiobook and will probably be listening to it again.


One of my reading goals for 2017 was to read more about the Cold War.  I got distracted by the whole having-a-baby thing and didn't read as much as I wanted to on this subject, but I did read this book and it sucked me in!  A narrative non-fiction from a former KGB spy.  It was fascinating to read about the process of becoming a spy, and I loved that it ended with his testimony of coming to Christ.  Great read!


This was another one of my pleasant surprises of the year.  I had never heard about this author, and was unsure of this book, but it was excellent!  A solid look at the history of the Bible, why we can trust the it is the Word of God, and lots of great Bible Study tips!  I'll be reading this one again.


I didn't agree with every point in this book, but overall I found Merkle's message really encouraging! I love the idea that we as women could do so much more with our work in the home if we would just throw ourselves into it, instead of pining after the same roles as men.  And Merkle has quite a high view of women and their abilities that is evident in this book, so don't get your hackles up before you give it a read.  I'll probably be coming back to this one.


This was a really fascinating look at the feminist movement and some of the consequences that we are just starting to see now.  This made an interesting companion read to Eve In Exile because it looked at feminism from a slightly different perspective.  Of course I liked both of these books because I am decidedly not a feminist in the modern sense, so if you consider yourself a feminist, prepare to be challenged (and probably offended).  Just warning you now.



Fiction

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

This one was difficult to read because of emotional reasons, and it had some content issues, but I don't know, I thought it was worth mentioning here.  The story follows an autistic girl in the foster system, and her struggles to find her "forever home".  Sweet and suspenseful, sad, but the ending was hopeful and I liked that.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

Have you ever watched "The Wonder Years"?  This book reminded me of that show, except I like this book better!  Holling Hoodhood finds himself stuck in class alone on Wednesday afternoons with a teacher who doesn't seem to like him, but we get to see how his studies and activities on those Wednesday afternoons help him grow up over the course of the year.  I loved this book so much I went right out and grabbed the companion book, Okay For Now.

Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt

I loved this book too!  Similar in type to The Wednesday Wars, this one follows Holling's friend Doug as he moves to a new town.  Doug stumbles upon the library and an original volume from Audubon, and between learning to draw the birds and his friendship with the girl he met in front of the library, he starts to make the most of his less than ideal circumstances.  The ending of this one seemed just right to me, happy, but a little bittersweet too.


This one was purely for fun!  Some content issues, but a funny and happy read.  The main character goes to "Austenland", a resort that puts it's guests into the world of Jane Austen.  I don't think I really need to say more than that.  I also liked the sequel, Midnight In Austenland which was more of a mystery.  Both of these would be fun summer reads!

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

Have you seen the movie?  The book is basically the same as the movie, and I loved them both!  I'm a sucker for a good coming of age story.  

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

My first Kate Morton, and basically the best novel I read all year!  (Well, maybe tied with The Wednesday Wars/Okay For Now.)  The main character saw her mother kill a man when she was a teenager, and the story follows her investigation to figure out what really happened that day.  This book will surprise you!  I loved it.

All of these books are ones I would recommend to a friend!  But now, friends, what would you recommend to me? What should I add to my reading list in 2018?  

What were your favorites from last year?



Hello Mornings Book Review - Well, Rats



2.5/5 stars

So, this book did not make a great first impression on me.  Here we go.

Negatives

My main issue with this book is that I felt from the very first chapter the gospel was presented very weakly, or even misrepresented because of ommission of the key points of the gospel.  Kat Lee opens the book with this explanation:

“Friends, I don’t know where you are in your journey with God.  I don’t know how many times you’ve tried to spend time with Him or read the Word or prayed and felt as if you failed.  But I do know that He does not merely stand at the finish line awaiting your triumphant victory.  Our loving God, our faithful Father, is fighting to come alongside you in the journey.  To push past all the discouragements and distractions.  To speak words of love, hope, and courage over you. To wrap His arms around you and finish the race with you.  Because of Jesus, God does not require our perfection; He wants a relationship with us.”

This is all good and fine if she is speaking exclusively to fellow Christians, but I fear that for the many non-Christians that may be reading this book, she leaves out any real explanation of the gospel here.  I kept looking for a fuller explanation, and Lee never got there.  The truth is that God does require our perfection, but we are wholly unable to attain perfection, and that is why Jesus came - to cover our filthy sin with His perfect righteousness when we quit trying to save ourselves and put our trust in Him.  That is why we who trust in Jesus no longer have to worry about perfection and can have a relationship with God.  To me, she really missed the boat on explaining that here.  

It didn’t help when later in the chapter she mentioned that some women reading this book may have had a great life and "wish they felt like they needed Jesus a little more".  If a Christian is feeling that way I’m not sure they really understand the weight of their sin.  Even if we haven’t had a single difficult thing to deal with in our entire lives, we are still in desperate need of Jesus because of our sin!  We can't be righteous enough to be in a right relationship with God on our own.  This is the problem Jesus came to solve!  He didn’t come mainly to help us through the difficult seasons of life or to overcome our feelings of a lack of purpose, and I am afraid the way Lee presented things in this chapter gave the impression that this is all we need Jesus for. 

Positives

Once I got past this frustration in the first couple chapters, I thought Lee had a lot of good things to say about developing a morning routine.  I definitely appreciated her tips about how to develop habits effectively.  She gives a lot of ideas for different habit-forming methods and how you can apply them to developing morning routine.

The Hello Mornings method focuses on three areas for a morning routine - time with the Lord, time to plan the day, and a jumpstart for making physically healthy choices during the day.  I thought this was a thoughtful way to focus a morning routine in a short amount of time.  She encourages developing a three-minute morning routine with these three things.  While that sounds like it wouldn't be enough time, I liked the idea of having an "anchor" habit so that whether I have only those three minutes or a much longer stretch of time, I can start the day off right.

I also really appreciated how Lee focuses on the "why" of developing a morning routine, which is to serve the Lord better through focusing on Him first thing, making a plan to be effective for Him that day, and developing healthy habits so we have enough energy to serve the Lord well.  The section at the back of the book where Lee includes different ideas for Bible study time was also a great thing to include, and I thought these suggestions were really solid.  

Bottom Line

The bottom line here is that I'm a little bummed about this book.  This would have been a higher-star-rating for me if it wasn't for my frustrations about the way she didn't explain the gospel.  

While I can understand that she was mainly writing this book for Christian women, I don't think any Christian author should assume their readers already know the gospel, especially when it's a book about a subject that would be of interest to non-believers as well.  I thought that because she didn't explain the gospel it gave the impression that she was saying that if you just "spend time with God" each day, you're good to go.  That's just not the case.  We need to trust in Jesus's sacrifice for us on the cross and His righteousness to save us from our sins and an eternity in Hell.  Only when we understand that, and stop relying on our own works to save us, can we have a relationship with Him and look forward to eternal life.  That piece was missing from this book, so I wouldn't recommend it to someone who I didn't feel was a solid believer already.  So that was a bummer.

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

Why I Didn't Rebel Book Review - Meh





It was sheer curiosity that prompted me to pick up Why I Didn't Rebel by Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach. The subtitle states that the book is written by a millennial who did not rebel as a teenager and I was also a millennial who did not rebel as a teenager, so I wanted to see if our experiences were similar.


I thought the author presented some interesting reminders in this book. I could relate to a lot of the points she made because a lot of the things that she experienced in her family were things my parents also did.  I think this book may offer some value in helping parents to start thinking about how they can aid of their children in not rebelling (or how they may inadvertently push them toward rebellion). So many of her points had to do with building a strong family unit through communication, traditions, and a family identity, and I thought she had great things to say on these subjects (though her "evidence" is almost purely anecdotal).

However, there were some areas where I felt that the author's lack of experience on the parenting side started to show. I am a millennial who is a little further down this road because I have children of my own now. Coming at this as a parent of young children, I felt that some topics that she tried to cover can be a bit more complicated than she made them out to be. A good example is the chapter on discipline. Entire books have been written on the topic of discipline from many different perspectives, including different strategies than the ones she presented in this book. I felt that she oversimplified that whole topic and didn't take into account viewpoints that were different than her own.  I was also surprised that she didn't mention any biblical principals in this chapter, because God obviously has something to say in the matter of how to train children. The only mention of Scripture here was an expert's opinion on why he thinks the Bible doesn't advise spanking (which people obviously also have a lot of opinions on, but only one side was presented). A huge opportunity was missed here to make this whole book more biblically grounded, so I found that disappointing.

(It also irked me when she stated her opinion that it was better not to focus on what are right and wrong decisions when talking to teens, but rather what is "smart or dumb". Why can't we include both? I think it is more effective to include both angles, so I disagreed with her here.)

The further I got into this book, the more something started to bug me.  I couldn't quite put my finger on it until the last chapter, and I think it boiled down to two things.  First, I felt that the way she presented her points in this book came off very formulaic, as if doing certain things would almost guarantee that your kids wouldn't "rebel".  And while I thought a lot of her advice was good, I finally figured out why her approach was bugging me - it's because overall, this book felt very weak to me on the Gospel.  The author mentions "authentic" Christianity, and even repentance or forgiveness of "mistakes", but it is never tied together into a full picture - that ALL children are naturally rebellious against God.  That's called sin.  And in order to not rebel against us, they first need to stop rebelling against God, turn from their sin, and believe in Jesus Christ and His righteousness to cover the debt of their sins that they cannot pay.  

If our children aren't first truly saved, it doesn't matter one wit if they don't "rebel" in the traditional sense - they are still lost in their sins, and that is the most serious rebellion of all.  I thought the author was perhaps trying to communicate that with her "authentic Christianity" talk, but it sounded like a bunch of buzz words, and to me, she failed to communicate what should be the main point for Christian parents, which is communicating the Gospel effectively to our children in every way we can, in word and deed. 

So overall, I don't know, maybe I'm being a little hard on this book, but something didn't sit right. I won't be recommending this book.  I feel there are more complete resources for Christian parents out there.

(If you are looking for a more biblically grounded book about raising children, including preventing rebellion and teaching them how to trust Jesus as their Savior, I highly recommend John MacArthur's Successful Christian Parenting.)

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

Everyday Watercolor Review - Highly Recommend




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This fall, before I had Georgie, I decided to try to get better at watercolor painting.  I have dabbled in it for a couple years, but I haven't been consistent about practicing at all.  I love the look of watercolor and it's one of those things that I know I need to practice more consistently in order to get better.  I signed up for an online class this fall, and I snagged Everyday Watercolor by Jenna Rainey as soon as I saw it!

This book is a thorough introduction to modern watercolor painting.  Rainey explains her choice of supplies and color theory in the introduction, and then she jumps right into 30 days worth of watercolor projects designed to help you develop your own painting skills.  I loved that Rainey didn't just tell you how to paint each project, but she really explains the reasoning behind the different techniques that she uses so you can take them and apply them to different subjects.

The book is also just gorgeous to look at.






I really appreciated how Rainey guides the reader into thinking about the shapes of the subjects and how the light should fall, and I am excited to practice.  I love Rainey's style of painting, and this book is perfect if you would like to learn to paint in a similar style.  After reading this book I feel like learning to pain in watercolors is that much more attainable. 

Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to read this until after Georgie was born, and I haven't been able to actually sit down with paint between adjusting to five kiddos!  But one of my goals for the new year will be to get back into practicing, and I'm excited to work through all the projects in this book.  I'll hopefully share some of the projects in 2018 - my goal is at least one a week!  Highly recommend if you are interested in the watercolor medium.

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

The Austen Escape Review



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I've only read one other book by Katherine Reay (Dear Mr. Knightly), and I really enjoyed it, so I was excited for the opportunity to read another one of her books for review!  Though the publisher is Christian, I wouldn't say Reay's novels are Christian or even religious at all - but they are clean, sweet stories, usually with a little romance thrown in.

The Austen Escape is about an electrical engineer, Mary, who has a crush on a consultant at work, Nathan.  She also has a tumultuous relationship with her childhood best friend, Isabel, but Mary ends up going with her to England anyway for an Austen-era experience at a house in Bath.  While they are there, Isabel has a nervous breakdown and thinks she is actually living in the early 1800's, and Nathan shows up to help Mary.  

I would say I enjoyed this book, but I thought it could have been stronger.  While in Bath, Mary works through a lot of her own internal feelings about the way Isabel treats her, but I felt the ending left a lot of things unresolved.  Isabel has a moment of repentance at the end of the story for the way she treats people, but it didn't really feel like she and Mary were fully reconciled.  Through the story we also learn that Mary had emotional problems connecting with her mother growing up, and while I suppose knowing this about Mary added some depth to her character, I didn't really see how that struggle added to the story since there was no realization related to this in the end aside from a brief conversation with her father.

I also felt like the main character was a little hard for me to personally relate to, probably because of personality differences.  Mary's character was very introverted and analytical, and though Reay tries to convince us at certain places in the book that Mary is a "romantic at heart," I didn't get that at all.  Nathan seemed to be the one in the relationship that was more emotionally in tune with Mary.  Though I'm not saying that women can't be analytical or men can't be emotional, I do think that it is a less common relationship dynamic, and somehow with the way it was executed I had a hard time buying it.  

I also felt that some of the relationships with the peripheral characters could have been developed a little better, and it would have strengthened the story.  But then, there was a lot of emotional issues going on in this book, so maybe it would have been too much.  I just know that I would have liked the secondary characters integrated more into the main storyline, and Mary's inner turmoil focused a bit more.

Aside from some of my frustration with the elements listed above, I did actually enjoy the book!  Reay's novels are always slower-paced, but while they take longer to get into, they have a comforting vibe to them.  I also think it could be argued that the multi-faceted emotional side of the characters does add a real-life element to her books, because rarely do we have all of our emotions resolved and tied up into a neat little package in real life.  In that way her characters and situations are really believable.  

I really liked the ending and thought it was nicely done, though I wish I could peek a little further into the future and make sure it all turned out well long-term!  Maybe she'll give us a glimpse of some of her characters in future books? (Katherine Reay, if you are reading, that's a request!  Because I will pick up more of your books in the future.)

Note: I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

My No-Stress Christmas To-Do List




Okay, maybe "no-stress" is a bit ambitious, but my goal is to keep my Christmas to-do's as low-key as possible this year!  Here are a few things I would like to squeeze in.  If they get done before Christmas, that's great, but I also love the idea of celebrating the whole yuletide this year and extending the fun activities beyond the 25th too.  So if some of this doesn't get done, we're just going to celebrate Christmas until January!

1. Gingerbread House.  The kids all requested a gingerbread house this year, so I want to make sure that happens.  Derek put the structure together last night, and we're hoping to get to the decorating this week!

2. Christmas Cards.  I addressed cards to all the critical people, like family, and I'm just going to keep this low pressure and either 1) write a few addresses here and there as I have time or 2) just focus on returning cards to people who send them to me.  

3. Baking.  There really isn't any way to simplify the work of baking, so my goal is just to do one type of cookie a couple times a week until Christmas, and then freeze them.  I've already got ginger cookies in the freezer.

4. Finish our stack of Christmas books.  I rented a whole stack of Christmas picture books from the library,and we are slowly working our way through them!  The kids are so excited every time I pull one out.  We also got this adorable book from Tommy Nelson to add to our permanent collection!





Christmas Blessings has a different Christmas poem on each page, and my plan is to pick this up this week and read one poem a day to the kids.   The poems are sweet celebrations of different aspects of Christmas.  I think my littler ones will especially like this book, because the illustrations are so cute, and it would be fun (and easy) to even memorize one of these poems with the kids!  I also love how so many of the poems point in some way back to the reason we celebrate Christmas as Christians, which is to remember what Christ has done for us through His birth, and later his death and resurrection! This book is a great starting point for reminding little ones of that.

5. Wrap Presents.  I have a couple presents left to wrap for my extended family, but I'm happy to report that Derek and I knocked out most of the present-wrapping before Georgie arrived!  So there is not much left to do here.

6. Advent.  My brother-in-law and sister-in-law make doing advent with the kids so easy, so this one is more for me to remember to do my own advent devotionals each day!  As I wrote last week, I have to make time for focusing on Jesus at Christmas, or I start to resent all the Christmas to-do's instead of celebrating the joy of His birth.

Notice one thing that is not on the list is shopping!  I am very happy to have all of that done early this year, but if you are still struggling for some gift ideas, I've got a post on Tommy Nelson idea with gift ideas for boys that will last!  Read and tell me what you think. 

What do you have left to do before Christmas?

Note: I received a copy of Christmas Blessings for free from Tommy Nelson in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

Book Series I Read As A Kid



If you are expecting this list to be populated with all the "children's classics", think again, my friends!  When I was in elementary school I mostly read a few series that captured my attention at the time.  I don't think they'd be considered great works of children's literature, but they did get me reading!  Just for fun, today I thought I'd share a few of the book series I remember reading as a kid.





The Saddle Club Series - These are some of the first books I remember being interested in, ever.  I think what drew me in was not so much the stories, but the collectible cards that came with each book.  Not to mention that I met my closest elementary school friend because she was also reading the Saddle Club series.  They were basically just stories about girls and their horses, and I remember very little of them now.  Like I said, I was in it for the cards.



American Girl Series - Did anyone in my generation not read one of the American Girl book series?  My favorite was always Felicity, because my favorite era of American History was the Revolutionary period, even back then.



Encyclopedia Brown - I used to love these books!  Each book had multiple stories - mysteries with clues! And it wouldn't tell you the answer at the end, you had to guess who you thought "did it" and turn to the back of the book to find out if you were right.  I was always so proud of myself when I picked the right culprit.



Grandma's Attic - Okay, this one is sort of a classic.  I mostly remember whichever book is the one where they pull an old quilt out of the attic, and each patch on the quilt has a different story.  Really cute stories.



American Adventure Series - I'm actually relieved to see you can still buy these!  Around the time we started homeschooling, my mom bought a couple of these American History books and assigned done of them to me for school.  I didn't get too excited about that one, but about a year down the road I got a hold of a book a little further in the series.  I was hooked.  Each book in the series follows the children of the characters in the previous book, so it's like one long family story down through all the eras of American History.  I used to save up my own money and march into the Christian bookstore with my $4 to buy the next book in the series.  Until a friend started loaning me the books, which I kind of regret now.  I wish I had kept buying them so I could have completed the series.  The ones I did buy are in a box under Gwen's bed, waiting for my children to get old enough to read them.




Nancy Drew - Obviously.  Gotta love Nancy Drew!


What did you like to read in elementary school?






What Made Me A Reader



I listen to a lot of homeschool and book-related podcasts, and a recurring theme seems to be the question "How do you turn your kids into readers?"  A lot has been said on the subject, most of it quite a bit more scholarly than what I am sharing here.  But whenever I hear this question come up, I start to think about my own childhood.  What made me love books?  What turned me into a reader?

I'm sure much of it has to do with some of those "right" things parents are supposed to do.  My mom always had an abundance of books around, and I used to love digging through the boxes of books she had hidden away in our basement.  I saw my parents reading frequently - usually when I came upstairs in the morning, my mom would be sitting at the table with a cup of tea, her Bible and devotional book stacked neatly next to her on the table (I could tell she had read God's Word first), and her nose in a book.  My dad would bring books when he knew we would have lots of leisure time (like on vacation), and it was fun to see him get involved in a good story.  

But one of my best book memories from my childhood is when my mom told me one evening that tonight was going to be a "reading night".



I didn't know what a reading night was, but I laid awake in bed as slowly all the lights in the house went out.  My brother and sister were in bed, even my dad was in bed, when my mom snuck stealthily into my room and told me to come with her.

We went up to the kitchen, and she pulled out two mugs and made us some tea.  She pulled out a Hershey's chocolate bar and gave me half.  We went to the living room and settled onto the couches with our books.  I drank my peppermint tea and savored my chocolate as we each read a chapter of our books.

Once I was finished with my chapter, I put my book down and looked up to my mom grinning at me. "What happened in your chapter?" she asked.  And I told her all about what I had read (I don't remember the book, but I am willing to bet it was a Nancy Drew mystery).  We discussed my favorite parts of the book so far, and what I thought was going to happen.  Then she told me about her book, and what was happening in her story.

We continued our occasional reading nights all through my middle school and high school years.  I was the oldest, so I got to start reading night first, but I know my mom did reading nights with my siblings too.

Whenever the question comes up of how to make your kids into readers, my mom's reading nights always pop back into my brain. I can't pin down exactly what made me a reader, but I can pin down those reading nights as one of the things that made reading fun. 

It's a tradition I fully intend to pass down.  I'm counting the days until my kids are big enough to be reading chapter books, and I can mysteriously tell them that tonight is going to be a reading night.
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