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

Sweetbriar Cottage Review



2.5/5 stars.

Whenever I see a new Denise Hunter book up for review, I have to snag it because I always enjoy how her books are quick, easy reads.  She has a way of sucking me into the story, and even when I think I can't take the drama anymore, I somehow can't help myself from turning the pages!

In this Sweetbriar Cottage, Noah and Josephine thought they got a divorce 18 months ago - only to realize that a paperwork glitch resulted in them still be married.  Through the book we find out more about how their relationship started, how it ended, and glimpses into Josephine's troubled past.

I have to say, this wasn't my favorite book by Hunter.  The main character's past was pretty dark, involving r.ape, and subsequent promiscuity, all that she hid from her husband while they were married.  I thought Hunter handled it all in a tactful way, but it was more than I was expecting and the subsequent problems in Josephine and Noah's marriage got all psychological, more so than in her other books.  Hunter also has had a tendency in all her books to focus on the physical attraction between her characters too much for me, and it seemed especially pronounced in this book - I'm assuming because of the sexual sin in the character's past, and remembrances of previous intimacy in her marriage to Noah.  Like I said, it all ended up being too much.

Also, we find out a lot about Josephine and her past, but hardly anything about Noah's.  He didn't seem to have as much of a backstory, and I wish he had.

My final complaint about this book is that the salvation message was really weak.  Josephine asked Jesus "into her heart" as a child, but obviously turned away from Him.  She has a renewal of "faith" in this book, and "the cross" is briefly mentioned, but it is never clear what she is being saved from.  She is plagued by the guilt of her past sins in this book, but her sin is never called sin (neither is Noah's, as he acknowledges his lust several times) and it's never clarified that that's why Jesus died in the first place - to cleanse us of our sin when we repent and put our trust in Him.  He didn't die for us so we could feel less guilty about our sin, He died so He could take our sins away from us and give us His righteousness.  This wasn't communicated well at all, and that troubled me.  The message seemed to be about Jesus's "unconditional love" for us, but didn't address sin and repentance really at all - and that's pretty much crucial to salvation.  So I was disappointed in that.

All that said, I did shoot through this book.  Like I said, she always keeps me turning the pages to find out what happens.  But this book wasn't my favorite.

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

Jane Of Austin Review

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As you probably saw on my list of books I brought on vacation, I have dipped my toes back into Jane Austen novels again this summer.  I have also read other books that I enjoyed by Hillary Manton Lodge, so when I saw that she had written a modern retelling of Sense And Sensibility, it was just meant to be!

In Jane Of Austin,  Jane and her sisters lose all their respectability when their father is accused of a financial crime - since they can no longer work in the financial world, they decide to open a tea parlor.  However, when their landlord dies they are kicked out of their tea shop's rental space, and decide to start over again in Austin.

First, I'll say that whenever I see that a novel has been published by a Christian publishing company, I expect some sort of Christian element to it, even if it's slight.  However, this book really had zero spiritual references at all, and I wouldn't consider it a Christian book.  So going forward with this review, I'm approaching it as a secular novel.



Content: The only objections I had to the content were some sexual implications.  One of the characters speculates on whether a couple of the main characters may have moved in together (they didn't). One of the characters suggestively says that Jane should "come back to his place" (she doesn't).  And there is a lot of making out.  

These things would have bothered me more if I had been thinking this was supposed to be a Christian book, but like I said, I figured out pretty quickly that it wasn't.  However, considering it is coming from a Christian publisher, I think it's just a good example of why we shouldn't necessarily trust "Christian books" to never present questionable morals.

Characters:  The story is told from the perspective of the "Maryanne" and "Colonel Branden" characters in this book, which I was excited about when I began reading.  Their love story is my favorite one in Sense And Sensibility, and I was excited to see how the book would play out from this perspective.  However, I have to say, Jane ("Maryanne") just really wasn't working for me.  I liked her character well enough, but she just seemed too Type A to be really "Maryanne-ish" to me.  My picture of Maryanne is that she is this free-spirited, creative type; and while Jane was creative, she was like snooty-type-A creative.  Lodge tried to make her passionate and emotional, but I felt like those emotions didn't seem to fit as well on the character of Jane because I saw her as more logical/Type A.  It just didn't jive with my vision of who Maryanne was.  That's just my personal opinion, others will probably disagree with me here!

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed the way Lodge managed to incorporate all the elements of the story of Sense And Sensibility into this book!  She did a really good job, and I found myself remembering different parts of the original story as I read.

I thought the tea shop aspect of it was particularly fun, and Lodge includes a lot of recipes for some of the foods mentioned in the book.  She did this in her other books too, and just from the writing it is obvious the author knows what she is talking about culinarily.  I just loved the extra coziness all the recipes add to Lodge's novels, and her food descriptions made me hungry.

If you'd like to read a Jane Austen retelling, this one was a fun, clean one, and I'd recommend it overall!

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

The Separatists Review (Not Recommended)



I finished this book in one afternoon, not because I was enjoying it, but because I knew if I put it down I would probably not want to pick it up again.

The plot line of this book was interesting enough, and I thought the political thriller aspect of it was written well enough.  Erica is a news anchor, who investigates separatist movements around the country for a news special.  Little does she know that one of them is gaining a lot of political traction and is a much bigger threat than it initially seems.

Like I said, the political thriller part of the plot was interesting enough, but a few things ruined this book for me.

Unnecessary Political Jabs

Within the first couple chapters there are disparaging remarks about at least three different political opinions, all of which are held by the "right-wing".  Erica is the "good" guy in the story, and her political opinions are no secret in this book as she expresses her more liberal viewpoints.  The "bad guys" in the book come from the Republican Party or "right-wing".  

I thought this was poorly done.  I've read Wiehl's novels in the past, and they never got politically partisan in this way.  This novel could have been written without all the political statements, and it would have been much better.

The Fact That It Was Published By A Christian Publisher

There was absolutely no faith element to this story at all, which surprises me since it's coming from Thomas Nelson.  In addition there was some content I was surprised at in a book coming from a Christian publisher, such as minor cuss words, infidelity presented as no big deal, talk of women faking orga.sms, references to po.rno.graphic TV shows, etc.  I was actually really disappointed that Thomas Nelson published this, and I don't appreciate the trend of publishing secular books under a Christian publishing company.  

The Main Character

I just really disliked the main character.  She drove me nuts to be honest.  Half the book was about the political plot, but the other half was about Erica's personal problems, and I honestly just wanted to slap her.  She was so self-centered and narcissistic.  She was stuck up, expressing disdain for small towns and the people in them.  She didn't seem to think much of her husband and his career, and was so insensitive about the fact that she was in a better position in her career than he was.  She seemed cold-hearted, snapping pictures of a corpse she found in a bathroom so she could investigate for her story.  She was an awful mother, thinking her daughter was out to get her or ruin her career.  She obliviously thinks her daughter is jealous of her, when anyone could see that her daughter just wants her mom to be with her more.  She even tells her daughter in the end that she will never be the mother her daughter wants her to be because she gets annoyed at the demands of motherhood and loves her career (nice, huh?).  She was hypocritical, despising the villain's ambition and quest for power when she herself seems willing to sacrifice all the things in her life that really matter on the altar of her own ambition. 

Bottom line, she was stuck in her own little narcissistic bubble, and really had no redemption or epiphany at the end.  I might have liked the book better if the main character had been even a little likable to me, but she just wasn't.

I thought it was unfortunate to publish this particular book at a time when the media's approval ratings are at such a low in the country.  People don't trust the media these days, and this character certainly didn't do anything to counter that trend.


I definitely cannot recommend this book, and I'll also be hesitant to pick up another book by Lis Wiehl after the unnecessary partisan spin this book presented.  I was disappointed in it.

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


Under A Summer Sky Review


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I read the first book in this series a few years ago, and though the ending was rushed, I really enjoyed it.  I decided to pick up Under A Summer Sky by Melody Calrson for a light, summer read.

Nicole heads to her mother's friend's house to run her gallery for the summer, and get's caught in between two sons who are vying for her attention.  She goes through mishaps in running the gallery and in figuring out how her relationship with one of the sons can move forward - because doesn't he have a girlfriend?

First I have to say that I would NOT call this a Christian book.  Aside from a couple of the characters shooting up a prayer before meals a couple times, there were no faith references at all.  So don't expect much in that department.  I would have loved this as a clean, romantic read, but it just irks me when it's presented as a Christian book when it really isn't.

There were many references in this book to the "ghosts" in Savannah, which irked me after a while. One of the characters briefly wonders if her love interest is living with someone - once again, not really representing how important following and obeying Christ should be in the lives of those who I am assuming were supposed to be following Him.  But I'm only assuming that because this was presented as a "Christian" book.  But it's not.

That said, for what it was, I really did enjoy this book!  The story was sweet, the different plot lines were all interesting.  I really liked the characters, and how it all played out.  The atmosphere of Savannah was described beautifully and made me want to visit.  Though the ending came quickly, I didn't feel like it was as abrupt as the previous book I've read by this author.  I did feel that a couple of the storylines could have been wrapped up better though, and in that sense it still felt rushed.  I always feel like this author's books could use another 50-100 pages.

Still, if you want a quick, light read, this book was fun, and overall I'd recommend it!

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

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You Review (Highly Recommend)



I picked up the 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You audiobook, because like many of you, I feel like I often check my phone too much.  I thought this book would give me a good little kick to break some bad habits, but I got so much more than I was expecting!

This book goes over different ways smartphones, and technology in general, has changed us not only individually but as a culture.  The author incorporates different statistics and studies, and then takes a deeper look at the spiritual impact of our phone choices.  He doesn't tell you what you need to do with your own smartphone habits, he just neutrally gets you thinking.

There were two specific things in this book that really stuck with me.  First, the author wrote that checking your phone or texting while driving (disclaimer: which I obviously try NOT to do unless changing my music - which maybe I should be careful about too) is a disregard for your neighbor - the neighbor who is in the car whizzing past you.  You are not caring for your neighbor as you should, and as Scripture calls us to do, when you flippantly put them at risk like that.  I had honestly never even thought about the whole don't-text-while-driving thing like that and thought he made some really good points.

The other item that I remembered with this book, and that will honestly change some of how I handle social media is that we so often trade eternal reward for a few temporal "likes" on social media.  The example he used was those posts on Instagram with a picture of your Bible as you finish up your devotional time.  Any heavenly reward we may have received from spending time with our Savior is instantly traded for pats on the back by other people on Instagram.  This is supported by Matthew 6:1

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."

How sad is that?  And once again, I never thought about it before, but I have been guilty too of trading eternal rewards for "likes" - guilty of caring more about men's applause than pleasing God.  Now whenever I see those Bible posts, or those "humble brag" posts, I cringe a little more than I used to.  Since listening to that chapter of this book, I've been trying to refrain from trading eternal rewards like that myself.  It's a bad trade.

There were so many other excellent points in this book, I'll honestly probably listen to it again.  I even thought about buying the print version so I could highlight some of the pieces that I like.  

If you are like me and feel that little itch for an eternal perspective on your smartphone use, definitely check this book out!   It's given me a lot to think about and has already motivated me to change some of my habits, and I highly recommend it.

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

Glory In The Ordinary Audiobook (Highly Recommend)



On somewhat of a whim I decided to grab the audiobook of Glory In The Ordinary recently.  The subtitle caught my eye, "Why Your Work In The Home Matters To God".  As someone who has struggled with my identity, especially after I quit working as a hygienist, I thought this book sounded helpful.

This book was so refreshing to me, because I find so much of Christian non-fiction that is directed toward women to be...fluffy.  This book was not fluffy!  It was packed full of Scripture references to support her points, and focused on the biblical view of work.  The author writes to stay-at-home-moms and working moms, because both groups are also working at home.  

As a mom, I could relate to so much of this book.  I struggled for a while to find my "purpose", my meaning in working at home, because so much of the work it is mundane.  Kriessig writes about how our work in the home brings order out of chaos and loves and ministers to those God has given us, and that brings Him glory.  She emphasizes how work in the home is not only valuable to God, but this very work is preparing us for the work God will have for us in eternity.



The narrator of this book did an excellent job, I thought.  Her voice inflections differentiated the sections well, and she made it easy to follow along with what the author was saying in audio format.

I got so much out of this book, and I wish I had come across it a couple years ago when I was really struggling in this area!  However, even now when I have settled in and feel more content with my work at home, I found this book so challenging and encouraging.  I think it will be a re-listen for me! I highly recommend it to all wives and mothers - no matter your stage or time constraints or style of homemaking, I think you'll be encouraged too!

Note: I received a copy of this audiobook for free from christianaudio, in exchange for this review.  This is my honest opinion.

How I Listen To Audiobooks For Free (Or Cheap)





Sometime last year I became aware of the vast array of audiobooks that are available these days - and I also became aware of how much more "reading" I could sneak in through audiobooks!  Who says you can't read and drive at the same time?

I listen to audiobooks while I drive places, while I fold laundry, while I cook dinner, and while I clean out closets (the current project).  I've listened to them while doing yard work.  I've even listened to them before I go to sleep when all the lights are out.  On top of all that, there are a lot of books I know I would never even get around to reading that I've been able to cross off my list because of the wonder of audiobooks.  I'm a big fan!

So for those of you who might be interested in giving audiobooks a try, I wanted to share how I've obtained quite a few books to listen to for free (or very inexpensively).  Here are all my secrets.  You are welcome.


Overdrive

If you have not heard of Overdrive pull out your phone right now and sign up!  It's an app that works through your public library, so you do need a library card.  Once you are all signed up, you have access to an unbelievable array of ebooks and audiobooks!  I really got started through this app, and it's so nice because if you come across an audiobook that just isn't doing it for you, you've invested no money and there are many more waiting for you to try.  

Audiobooks.com

I signed up for Audiobooks.com because I saw a book I wanted to listen to on there, and realized that Audiobooks.com gives you a free audiobook credit for signing up!  Shortly after signing up, I also got an email with an offer for another free credit for leaving an iTunes review.  That's two free audiobooks!  It is a monthly subscription membership, but you can cancel anytime, so I just cancelled before I got charged for another book credit.

Audiobooks.com also has a fantastic selection of free audiobooks that you can download and listen to through the app.  These include a lot of classics!  Some are Librivox recordings that have been compiled into an audiobook format through the app, which is the most convenient way I have found to access Librivox audiobooks.  Some of the free books I am most excited about (for myself and for the kids) are Under The Lilacs by Louisa May Alcott, The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame, Chronicles Of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery (never read this one), Dr. Doolitte, Little Bear, The Bobbsey Twins books, and more!

Audible

Most people think of the monthly membership fee with Audible, but in case you weren't aware, you can download the Audible app and use it without creating a monthly membership.  And why would you do this?  Download the app now and go to the "Channels" tab.  Look at the top and choose "Featured".  Scroll down a bit and you should see a banner for free audiobooks to stream for Amazon Prime members!  I'm listening to Pride and Prejudice right now, under "Celebrity Voices, Classic Stories".  They have a selection of 20+ free, high-quality audiobooks that you can stream right now.

You can also sign-up for a membership trial for two free books, and if you don't decide to keep it, you can cancel anytime (even before you are charged the first time).  I haven't used the two-free-books deal yet, because I'm waiting until I finish more of the audiobooks I already have, but rest assured, I will be taking advantage of that in the future!

ChristianAudio

ChristianAudio is another audiobooks service much like the two listed above, and they also offer a free book for signing up for a membership (haven't taken advantage of this yet either, but I will eventually).  However, ChristianAudio is great because they actually offer a free audiobook each month, just for entering your email.  No other strings attached!  They also have a reviewer program that you can sign up for to receive free audiobooks - this is open to you even if you aren't a blogger!

Amazon Whispersync

This is the option where you have to pay, but at a deeply discounted price.  Amazon often offers Whispersync audiobooks as a package deal with their Kindle books - this is neat because you can switch between the ebook and audiobook anytime, and Whispersync will save your place.  If you are interested in a book, check the Kindle version on Amazon, and then look underneath the price.  If Whispersync is available, there will be a checkbox to "add Whispersync audio for $______."  These deals are often great for audiobooks, especially if the Kindle book also happens to be on sale.  The best deal I've gotten was probably the Anne Of Green Gables audiobook and Kindle book combo for $2.  Read the ebook in the Kindle app, and be sure to download the Audible app to listen to the audio - all of your Whispersync audiobooks will show up under your Amazon account in the app!

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And to finish this off, I wanted to answer a common question:  

"Isn't it hard to listen to audiobooks with kids running around?  I wouldn't be able to focus."

While I understand why you might think that, I don't have a problem with this for two reasons.  

First, I don't expect to be able to sit with my eyes closed and focus on every word of my audiobook (which is the only way I would hear every word of my audiobook).  You can enjoy an audiobook without being 100% focused on it, and you might just have to realize that even if you miss a sentence here and there, you are will still hear and understand and enjoy 95% of what's going on.  The question is, is it okay if you lose 5% of non-critical words through listening to the audio version as a mom of young kids, with all the distractions that entails?  I say it's okay.  It's okay with me.  It's the tradeoff for getting more books in through taking advantage of audiobooks.  And if the thought of missing a few sentences really bothers you, try picking a book you aren't as invested in from among some of the free options I listed here!  Sometimes I'll choose to listen to books I've already read, or books I feel a little more casual about, to ensure I don't feel like missing that 5% robbed me of something.

Second, earbuds.  A lot of audiobooks, even Christian ones, aren't necessarily appropriate for young kids, so most of the time I listen through my earbuds.  This also helps me to be able to still hear my book when I'm cooking dinner and the kids are running through the house driving fire trucks on the wood floors (very noisy).  I really want to get some sort of wireless earbuds (like these maybe? I can't afford Airpods, so these look like an acceptable alternative), because that will make my audiobook-listening even more accessible and convenient!  I'm thinking these would be great for situations like working out and listening without wires connecting me to my phone, or sneaking my earbuds in while waiting for a doctor's appointment.  This will open up even more audiobook listening opportunities!

So there you go, all my audiobooks tips and secrets!  

Do you listen to audiobooks?  What has been your favorite audiobook?

The only other word of caution is that a narrator can really make or break an audiobook, so I'd be interested to hear if anyone has a favorite!









The 10 Books I Am Bringing On Vacation




Let's talk about the books I am planning on bringing with me on vacation this year!  I hope I'm not the only one who puts a lot of pressure on myself to pick the perfect books to bring on vacation.  I went so far as to include book-buying purchases in my vacation budget this year.  It's that important to have a good book to read on a road trip! (Let's just overlook the fact that I can't even read in the car without feeling nauseous these days.  I still need the books.)

I typically like books that are light-hearted, quick reads on vacation - the typical beach read, but I went a slightly different direction this year.  This time I chose books that I knew would probably not disappoint me.  After spending last year's vacation on a book that ended with a not-great message, I wanted to skip over moral depravity and choose something a little more likely to contribute to my intellectual growth.  And of course something that I'd enjoy reading.  So here we go!

(I hope you don't mind that I used affiliate links below.  Trying to up my chances of recouping some book costs, since I spent too much on vacation books...yikes!)


Fiction/Non-Fiction Books

The last time we took this particular trip, I made it through five books on my vacation.  That's alot, even for me! However, I chose five books for this trip as well.  I highly doubt I'l get through all of these since they are all a bit more meaty than the books I brought with my the last time we went to Arizona, but still, it's best to be prepared when it comes to books.



Persuasion - Ever since I finished my third Jane Austen book in high school, I've been hesitant to pick up another one.  Not because I didn't enjoy it, but because I had precious few Jane Austen books left, and if I read them all I would never again have a new Jane Austen book to read.  I realize now how silly this was, since I've been itching to pick up Emma as a re-read.  I am not a re-reader, but I will re-read Jane Austen and probably enjoy it every bit as much as the first time.  Still, Persuasion is one of her books that I haven't read yet.  I've decided I need to just go ahead and read all of Austen's works instead of trying to spread them out.

Deal Alert!! You can actually get the kindle version of Persuasion for free and add the Audible narration for $0.49, as of the last time I checked!  Get yourself over there and grab it if you are a fellow Austen fan!

My Cousin Rachel - I picked this up because I read Rebecca last year.  And despite that book ending rather horribly (it's not really a spoiler because you kind of get that sense of impending doom from the start), I somehow weirdly really liked it.  I feel like maybe it's not a great book for a Christian girl to enjoy, but I kind of did.  Even the ending was a weird sort of poetic justice that was weirdly satisfying.  In a weird way.  Anyway, Du Maurier's writing is just fun to me because in Rebecca there was just the right amount of creepy, so I decided to just go for it and try My Cousin Rachel.  I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

The Big Four - You just cannot go wrong with Agatha Christie.

The Choir Immortal - This book was still in the mail when I took the picture above.  Several years ago I read House Of Living Stones, and I loved it and then forgot about it...until I realized that Schuermann's third book in the series was coming out and I hadn't read the second!  I remember liking the characters and small-church-in-a-small-town atmosphere in the first book, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next.  This is just my happy book, in case I get tired of the potential tragedy and crime from the other books on this list.  

The Life-Giving Home - Two different people recommended this book to me recently, and then I saw that Elizabeth was reading it too...so I decided to go for it!  I've read a bit by Clarkson, but this will be my first full book by her.


Activity Books

And of course, no road trip is complete without some fun activity books, right?



Wipe-Clean Usborne Books (this is my blog friend's consultant link, just FYI) - I wanted something for the kids to do in the car that wouldn't get too messy or complicated, and I thought these books looked fun! They include a bunch of mazes, tracing, etc, with a dry erase marker that wipes clean.  I think the kids will love them.  I got four, even though I'll probably confiscate Clarice's pen...or give her a washable marker that matches her shirt.  But she would be indignant if I left her out.

True North Guide To The Grand Canyon - We're going to Arizona this year, and I remembered these guides from the homeschool conference I went to last year.  I hold to a young earth creationist perspective, and was excited to see these guides from Ken Ham's publishing company (I'm a Ken Ham fan).  I'm excited to take these along as we tour the Grand Canyon on vacation!  It'll also give me some interesting things to tell the kids about what we're looking at (since I don't think they'll be as awed by the Grand Canyon as we are.)



Audubon's North America Field Guide To Wildflowers: Western Region - This one is me trying to sneak a little more nerdy nature study/science in on this trip, for me and the kids. Plus, I've been dying to have this guide for a while, and I figured this was a good chance for me to use it!

Sodoku - I haven't done a Sudoku puzzle in forever, and I'm horrible at them, so I'm not sure what possessed me when I picked up this book.  I am hoping I won't get quite as carsick with this, as opposed to regular book in which I will be sick for an entire day if I dare read a chapter.  We shall see.  I am also packing pencils and erasers.

Brain Games - Unlike me, Derek is the Sudoku master, and whizzed right through the extra-super-hard puzzle book I bought him last time, so I'm hoping some of these will stump him.

What kind of books do you like to bring on vacation?





Fraying At The Edge Review (Enjoyed It)

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I haven't read an Amish fiction book in so long, and the description of Fraying At The Edge piqued my interest.  The story is about two girls, one Amish and one secular, who were switched at birth.  The mistake is discovered, lawsuits are threatened, and the girls are forced to go live with their biological families...and experience a whole new world that they know nothing about.

I really enjoyed this book, and thought the author did an excellent job with some of the internal struggles with the characters.  Even the character that I didn't want to like, a drug addict with an attitude, I couldn't help but sympathize with.  She made the characters really believable and at the same time likable.

I listened to the audio of this book, and I think they picked a great narrator.  I thought she really brought out the characters emotions well.  Often with women narrators I think it sounds creepy when they read the male characters' lines, but this narrator did an excellent job at reading male characters.  She did a different voice for each character, but in such a natural way that it didn't feel ridiculous or weird at all.

I didn't realize this book was part of a trilogy until I got close to the end and couldn't figure out how the author was going to wrap everything up!  Now I want to pick up the next book to see what happens!  This was not your typical Amish fiction, because it brought in both worlds in such an interesting way, and I really enjoyed it!

Note: I received the audiobook for Fraying At The Edge for free from christianaudio in exchange for a review. This is my honest opinion.

Craving Connection Review

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So through no fault of it's own, this book was not what I thought it was.  I picked up Craving Connection thinking it was formatted more like a traditional book.  When I read the back cover more closely later, I realized that this book is actually written by multiple authors and contains personal stories about how these women have found connection with others.

Overall, I thought the book was good.  It was hard to get past the initial "this is not what I was expecting", but once I did get over it I started to enjoy it.  Since each chapter is written by a different author/blogger, it was more like reading a collection of blog posts than a book...and with that came a lot of variety.  Some of the chapters I really enjoyed and felt challenged by, and some were just okay.  

After each chapter are a couple quotes and some short "challenges" to help you get started in connecting with your community.  I liked those sections, but found myself skipping past them a bit toward the end of the book, but mostly because the format was different in the version I read.  I'd love to see how pretty everything looks in the print and finished Kindle versions of this book!

This is more of a devotion type book, so if you pick it up I'd say to expect to read it in short sections.  It's not the type of book you can sit down and read several chapters at once, at least for me.  However, I enjoyed it overall!

Note: I received a digital galley of this book for free in exchange for a review.  This is my honest opinion.

Quick Tips For Busy Families Review (Thumbs Up)

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This book - Quick Tips For Busy Families - caught my eye when I saw it on a book review list a couple months ago.  It has taken me forever to finish it - not because it isn't good, but because it's just what the title says, quick tips!  

Each chapter is short and to-the-point, but every page is also full of great ideas for ways to use teachable moments with your kids, fun stuff to do together, creative discipline ideas, and encouragement to use every opportunity to train your child in the way they should go.  I found myself not necessarily wanting to skip to the next chapter, because I wanted to remember some of the things he had just shared!  Not all of the chapters pertained to me (a lot of them included school/teacher-realted tips, which I probably won't need since we're homeschooling), but I still got a lot out of this book.

This definitely isn't a book to read once and put forever on the shelf, it's a book that could be a reference when you need a quick shot of encouragement or creativity in parenting.  I really enjoyed it!

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

The Illusionist's Apprentice - Great Book

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I wasn't sure what to expect going into The Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron.  I don't know much about 1920's vaudeville, and I don't even know that much about Harry Houdini (besides that he was an amazing illusionist).  This book sucked me right into that world though!

This book opens with a man named Stapleton supposedly raising a man from the dead - only to have him die moments later.  Wren Lockhart, a famous illusionist, is very skeptical and dislikes when performers feed off of other's grief...so she agrees to help Elliot Matthews, an FBI agent who is investigating the supposedly-raised-to-life man's death.  However, it quickly becomes clear that this mystery goes a lot deeper than a trick, involving Wren's past that she would rather keep buried.

While this book is subtly Christian, with passing references to Christ being the only man to truly conquer death, the story itself wasn't rooted in the Christian faith.  Sometimes it bothers me having a book with hardly any trace of Christianity coming from a Christian publisher, but the way Cambron handled her story made it seem more natural.  If she had forced in too many faith references it would have been awkward, so I understood it in this book, and it seemed to work.  I'd say this book isn't overtly "Christian", but has some Christian influences since the author is a believer.

I thought this book was so well-written.  The whole thing had a mysterious air about it, before we even got to the mystery part of the story, and I credit that to Cambron's ability to create atmosphere.  The author weaves in so many elements to the story but really manages to make it all cohesive.  I was rooting for Wren and Elliot right from the start, and their romance was full of old-style flair.  The author also seemed to take a lot of care with her historical facts, and wove in so many pieces of history that I didn't recognize them all until I read her Afterword - still it gave a really authentic feel to this book.  I also liked what the author did with some of the secondary characters, and everyone's personality was colorful and distinct.  I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for more books by Cambron!

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

Treasured Grace (Not Recommended)



1/5 stars.

I have to admit, I didn't enjoy this book.

The back cover of Treasured Grace by Tracie Peterson sounded interesting, which was why I picked it up.  I had read a book by Peterson in the past, and though I didn't remember loving that one, I thought I'd give her another shot.  I probably would have thought better of it if I had realized this book was about a massacre.

I don't have a problem with books that deal with tragedy, but I have little patience for historical fiction books that portray historical events by heaping one tragic event after another upon the characters, with no lighthearted moments to break it up.  That's what this book did, and by the end I was just so tired of the book.  It felt like every time something got slow she'd throw another death or other difficult situation in there to try to keep it interesting.

This book also just dragged on and on to me, and I think that is because I just don't personally like Peterson's writing style.  I felt like a lot of the deaths and tragedies felt cold, because I never felt like we really got into the character's heads and emotions.  The author was just telling us how the characters were feeling instead of letting us feel things with them, if that makes sense.  The characters seemed one-dimensional, and any personal histories that were woven into the story seemed like an afterthought, instead of something that was incorporated from the beginning.  There was nothing really driving the plot forward, it just felt like a bunch of historical events and personal tragedies were strung together, and that was it.  

I also felt like Peterson tried to address too much in this book.  This book tried to address loveless marriage, alternative medicine, hypocrisy, racism, death and grief, r.ape, abortion, adoption - all in one book, and it was too much.  I couldn't pick out an overall theme or point to the story.  

I also had little confidence in Peterson's portrayal of historical events.  Some of the historical figures were portrayed in less than flattering ways, and she provided no historical research to back up her representation of their personalities.  I'm thinking particularly of Dr. Whitman, the missionary involved in the massacre, who came off like a total jerk.  When I read historical fiction, I like to know that the author tried her best to get it right, and I didn't see the effort here aside from a short note at the beginning of the book.  There was no explanation of her research and why she included certain figures/events/conversations.  It felt careless.

On top of that, I find the main character very unrelatable, and almost unlikeable.  She acted like a know-it-all and got on my nerves.  This is obviously just a personality conflict between me and the character (that does happen, and I don't blame the author for that).

Finally, and this was disturbing to me - there was also a comment on page 89-90 where a character made a very sympathetic statement about someone wanting to marry their dog...I think it might have been a joke, but the context didn't seem like that statement was a joke.  No characters laughed after he said it.  Some people might not take this seriously, but I do, because I know in many countries around the world people do actually marry animals.  And it's animal abuse, and it's sick.  That sentence came out of left field and made me very uncomfortable.  We no longer live in a global culture where a sentence like that can automatically be counted as a joke, and I have no idea what she was getting at by including it.

The one thing I did think she did well was to incorporate the salvation message into her story.  She did it very naturally I thought, and I like when Christian authors take that kind of effort.  However, I can hardly give the author any points for that considering my other problems with the book, especially the seemingly sympathetic reference to be.asti.ality.

Overall, this book just really wasn't for me at all.  Others with different tastes may like it more.  I will not be reading Peterson again.


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

Love Story Book Review

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I was so excited that I got the chance to read Karen Kingsbury's new novel before it comes out in June!  Many years ago I got sucked into the world of the Baxters through Kingsbury's books, and it's been exciting to see her writing more books about them again.

In Love Story, we finally learn the full story of John and Elizabeth Baxter, how they met and fell in love, and how Elizabeth was sent away to have their first baby out of wedlock, forced to give the baby up for adoption.  That sounds terribly sad if you haven't already read the rest of the Baxter Family books and know how it all worked out, so I wouldn't recommend reading this book at all unless you've read the rest of the books in those series.  A lot of the characters and stories in this book won't make sense or mean as much if you don't already have the backstory from the other books.

I also liked how Kingsbury gave us updates on Bailey's marriage and Cody's life through this book.  Bailey and Cody were some of my favorite characters from her series, and it was fun to see how things are working out for them.  

The only thing I haven't loved about Kingsbury's books in the past is how she will have God "speak" to her characters.  At times she has even said that the characters heard God's voice audibly, and I have had concerns with whether she is giving the correct impression of how a Christian can expect to hear from God.  I'd hate to have a Christian who was younger in their faith feel like they must be missing some way that God is speaking to them, instead of realizing that God speaks to us through His word, the Bible.  There were a couple instances in this book, but I do appreciate how she almost always has God "speak" something that comes from a Bible verse at least.  Thankfully I find that Kingsbury has been toning down that aspect of her stories in her more recent books, which has let me enjoy them even more.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and finished most of it in one sitting on a Sunday afternoon. Kingsbury's writing is done in a  way that keeps you reading, and I'm a sucker for a happy ending.  If you have read any of the Baxter books in the past, I definitely recommend catching up with the Baxters and Flannigans with this book!

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

Deep Undercover (Highly Recommend)

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I didn't really make New Year's resolutions this year, but I mentioned before that an unofficial "goal" for me is to read more about the Cold War.  The Cold War was kind of a big deal, and it's pretty amazing when you think about that we fought an entire war without any official shots being fired back and forth.  Like many millennials though, I didn't understand it that well, so this is the year I chose to remedy that.

Deep Undercover is the story of Jack Barsky, a former KGB spy turned proud American citizen and Christian.  I loved this book!  Barsky's story is written as narrative non-fiction, so it reads more like a novel, and it is fascinating.  This book gave me a really good idea of what it was like in East Germany in the post-World-War-II era, and how many East Germans thought their communist government was anti-Nazi, and the answer to the world's problems.  Even though Barsky doesn't realize until much later the atrocities that have been committed by communist regimes, it was fascinating to get a glimpse into how this ideology was explained to those who had to live under it, and how the American way of life was demonized and the truth hidden under government propaganda.  

Barsky is eventually recruited by the KGB, and the stories of his "spy training" were so interesting.  I think we have this glamorized view of spies in our culture, but this book made me see that a lot of these spies are just normal people, and their tasks are rather mundane.  Dangerous, but not necessarily glamorous.  It was so interesting.  The way he ended up defecting from the KGB was really clever too!  I didn't see it coming.

The best part of this book was reading about how Barsky's view of the US (and Christianity) started to change when he actually started living here, how he developed a love of freedom through experiencing it in America and realized how much of that freedom the people in East Germany did not have.  

After many personal and family struggles, Barsky ends up hiring an assistant who is a Christian.  He researches the Christian faith and eventually comes to know Jesus as His Savior.  This was the coolest part of the story to me.  Barsky never found out why exactly he was recruited to the KGB, but if he hadn't been recruited, he never would have formed a life in America, and perhaps never would have come to Christ.  It was amazing to see God working through his life, even as a KGB spy.

I highly recommend this book.  Even if you aren't particularly interested in the Cold War, this book was an absolutely fascinating read!  I couldn't find a big enough chunk of time to finish it in one sitting, but I was sorry every time I had to put it down!

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

Noah, Noah, What Do You See? (Children's Book Giveaway!)



I have been gathering a lot of classic picture books for the kids over the years, and one of them is "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?"  I find that book to be a little repetitive (I know, I know, that's the point).


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However, Tommy Nelson just came out with a Christian version of that book called "Noah, Noah, What Do You See?"  And I have to say, I like this one so much!  It's written by the same people act wrote "Brown Bear", but this one is focused on Bible stories!

Each page features a major Bible hero and asks them "what they see".  Then a snippet of each Bible story is given.  At the end, all these people are gathered together with Jesus, and Jesus "sees" all these people seeking after Him.

The illustrations in this book are gorgeous, it's a board book (always a plus for me), and the Bible references are given on each page as well so it is easy to look up the full story in the Bible.  The thing I love best about it is how it keeps the spirit of "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" but is so much more meaningful (and a lot more fun to read, in my opinion).  It's definitely a winner around here!



HINT: This would also be a great space-filler for Easter baskets!

And the great news - Tommy Nelson is giving away a copy to one of YOU! You can enter either by commenting here and telling me your favorite children's book, or by entering on Instagram (or both).  I'll announce the winner next week!

(Giveaway open to US residents only.  Ends 4/2 at 11:59 PM.)


Note: I received a copy of this book for free as part of the Tommy Mommy program.  This is my honest opinion.

The Simplest Way To Change The World




If you are a Christian, read this book!

You might remember that the main goal I have chosen for this year is to reach out to those around me more.  So when I say that a book on hospitality was up for review a couple months ago, I requested it immediately.

The Simplest Way To Change The World (affiliate link) discusses biblical hospitality, both in terms of biblical teachings on hospitality and in terms of practical way we can become hospitable people.  I got so much out of this book.

What I really liked about this book was the way the authers discussed theological topics relating to hospitality, and alternated those chapters with practical suggestions.  

On the theological side, they framed the gospel in terms of hospitality in one chapter, writing about how in Scripture God is a hospitable God, and I found that really interesting.  They discussed the truth of the Gospel and what Jesus did in dying to save us, and expressed how that is what motivates us to reach out to those around us with biblical hospitality.

Some of the best chapters were definitely on the practical suggestions though.  The authors know that opening your home and lives to those around you is hard in this culture, in which it is more normal to lock yourself behind closed doors to "relax" than to open the doors and invite people in.  They gave so many practical and fun suggestions for starting to open your homes to other people.  I loved how they encouraged you to incorporate hospitality into the regular rhythms of your life, and how they made it seem easy and desirable to become more hospitable (even while acknowledging the parts that are hard and sharing their own mistakes).  

The end of the book includes a group study guide - I think this would make an amazing small group study.

Everything the authors had to say on how hospitality can be the most effective way to reach other people for Christ was spot-on.  You don't have to preach from the sidewalk, give a "gospel presentation", travel to foreign countries, or do something "radical" to reach other for the Lord.  Through simply being hospitable, we "share our lives" with people and naturally let them see how important Jesus is in our lives through words and actions - and God can use that to stir their hearts to know more.

Highly, highly recommend this book!  Easy and enjoyable to read, convicting and motivating!

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

Behind The Scenes Review




When I was a teenager, my sister and I had a couple groups of friends who like dot write stories.  We would labor over those stories when we got together or between seeing each other, and then we'd read them to each other and laugh and laugh.

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Behind The Scenes by Jen Turano reminded me of those stories, in the best possible way.

In this book, the main character, Permillia, is an official wallflower, relegated to the edges of all the exciting society events.  However, that's just fine with her since she writes an anonymous society column for a local newspaper and is more interested in business than marrying well. However, on the night of a certain ball she not only makes better acquaintance with a gentlemen named Asher Rutherford, but she also learns of a murder plot with him as the target.  She is determined to either figure out who is trying to murder Asher, or at the least make him take the threat seriously.

What I Liked

This is one of those books with over-the-top characters and situations, but done in a really fun and comical way - and I loved that!  I love light-hearted historical fiction that avoids that "tragedy" formula and takes a comedy route instead.  That was the part that reminded me of the stories I used to write with my friends, because I have always loved a story or book that can make me laugh, and this one delivered!

The ending of this book was nearly perfect too, with almost every loose end tied up in a nice bow.  Some people don't appreciate that because they like their fiction to be more true to real life...I am not one of those people, and if you are, this is probably not your book!  I loved everything that was slightly over-the-top, and I loved that everything came out alright in the end.  It was just fun!

What I Didn't Like

Permillia's character was a little too ambitious for me at times, and it seemed she expected everyone else to recognize her value.  She came off as lecturing other people when she really wasn't in a position to be lecturing.  All this was framed within the context of the women's suffrage movement, since this story takes place during that time.  However, Permillia did not come off as pursuing a good cause (like women's right to vote, etc.), but instead she just seemed arrogant, which is a character flaw not really addressed in this book.  She seemed like a know-it-all in places.  Despite that, I still liked her character overall.

The only other thing that I had a problem with was in the scene where Permillia learns her father and stepmother were really only married because they were using each other.  Her stepmother used her father to escape financial ruin, and her father used her stepmother to help Permillia become more accepted in society.  When this all officially comes out, there are tons of accusations and very hurtful words hurled between the parents, and between Permillia and her stepsister, with a couple of side characters even joining in with the verbal thrashing.  It was probably meant to be amusing, but I did not find this scene funny.  Even though this book wasn't meant to be realistic, even over-the-top fictional characters would have a hard time coming back from that.  

In the end, this sad conflict with Permillia's family was the one loose end that wasn't tied up well.  I wanted relationships to be repaired, especially in the marriage of Permillia's father and stepmother, because the careless words they flung at each other really seemed to bring down the whole view of marriage itself within this book.  So I'm taking off a star for that.

Conclusions

Even though those last two books sound fairly bad when they're all typed out, just take my word for it that the book overall was fun and funny and lighthearted!  Despite my couple of bones to pick, I really enjoyed reading it, and I'd still recommend it if you want some not-too-serious reading!  It comes out in April if you want to check it out, or preorder here!

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

Speaking Of "Spring"...




From Winter To Spring


In one way or another springtime here always disappoints me.

I used to truly hate springtime, mostly because where I live the season inevitably means one thing - mud. Lots and lots of mud.  However, springtime in the mountains has started to surprise me.  The last couple springs have been unseasonably warm, with blue skies and flowers that have started to sprout early.

This last week I thought we may be in for another uncharacteristically nice spring, but I'm still on guard because the air as I type this on Saturday has a bit of chill sneaking back in.  So even during "nice" springs, you just never know when we will be right back to winter.  I'm dubbing it the springtime blues.  You are happy that the weather is so beautiful, but you are sad because you know it's not going to last that long.

It's an emotional roller coaster, I tell you.

In-Between Seasons Clothing

Regardless, I thought I'd just talk today about transitioning from winter to spring, in more ways than one!  First clothing, and in particular, shoes.  I am so happy that laced suede flats are a trend right now, because I think they are perfect for those transition seasons, when you don't really know what to wear.






Floral Tank: Papaya
Drapey Utility-Inspired Jacket: TJ Maxx
Jeans: JustFab (my referral links here)
Shoes: JustFab

All About Birding

For the uninitiated, "birding" is the modern term for "bird-watching".  Don't let a birder catch you saying "bird-watching", because I hear it's a major faux-pas.  I've mentioned before that one of my favorite movies is The Big Year, and every time I watch it I get in the mood to break out my binoculars and find some birds.  Last year when we went to Yellowstone was when it started, because there were so many varieties of birds there.  I saw an American White Pelican!  I don't think I've seen a pelican in my life before that.

As if I needed another reason to just give birding a try, I saw in one of my homeschool Facebook groups that the Great Backyard Bird Count is starting right now.  This is a citizen-study put on by Cornell every year.  It helps them gather information on bird migration patterns, and it helps citizens (like me) get outside and identify some birds.  I decided we would participate and incorporate it into our school days.  

Our first day out was not overly successful.  I heard a chickadee and saw a Dark-eyed Janko.  But to be honest, I was just guessing as to what bird it was.  I poured over websites and books for almost an hour trying to figure out what it was that I saw.  It was a 7-9 inch bird with a chestnut-colored back, and blackish and white tail feathers.  I settled on the Janko, because it's very common and also the only bird that even vaguely fit that description.  

I'm sure I'll get better at this whole thing eventually and won't have to spend an hour identifying each bird, right?

The Book-Buying Urge

Even though I wouldn't say spring has officially started at all, this spring-like weather is conjuring spring-like thoughts.  Spring makes me think about saving money for the homeschool conference, and preparing for next school year (oh, the life of a homeschool mom), which makes me think about picking curriculum for first grade (even though we are still in the midst of kindergarten).  And since I am an eclectic homeschooler with an emphasis on "living books", it makes me want to buy books for the kids.

My Usborne party was a declared success, and I have a big 'ole batch of books coming my way from them soon (more on that when they arrive!).  Last Saturday I also took a shopping trip by myself, and there is a local thrift store that has a particularly good selection of books.  Seriously, every time I go there I find a bunch of classic children's books.  I am baffled.  Who is giving away all these good books?  I must be in a sweet-spot, surrounded by parents with kids just a little older than mine who give all their good children's books away to this one thrift store.  This is my haul (excuse the fact that I'm talking so fast, Derek was waiting for me and I was in a rush!).





I may have gone a little overboard.  It's hard not to do when you can get each book for $1.50 each! This batch of books would have cost me at least $160 on Amazon, and that's if I bought each one of them used.

Old School Blogger Shout-Out

Just one today, for the sake of time!  Alex from Inspiration Clothesline is a long-time blog friend.  Go check out her most recent post where she announced being pregnant with her FOURTH baby!  So cute!

What I'm Drinking: Still to be determined.  Coffee?  Peppermint tea?  Something that will wake me up and give me energy for our homeschool playdate this morning.


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