Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reviews. Show all posts

Loving My Actual Christmas



A little confession: I've struggled for the last several years to really enjoy the Christmas season.  Maybe it's the extra pressure that comes from being a mom and having more people to juggle, maybe expectations outside our immediate family have ramped up...I don't know, but no matter how much I prepare, the season still seems to be more stressful than I would like.

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Knowing this about myself, when I saw Loving My Actual Christmas by Alexandra Kuykendall, I knew I had to grab it.  Because I am self-aware enough to realize that I do need to take some pressure off myself and learn to love the actual Christmas I have, even if it doesn't look the way I want.

This book is less a how-to, and more of a personal memoir of how the author herself managed to enjoy her Christmas even amidst all the hustle and bustle.  Each chapter is centered around a week of the Christmas season and focuses on a theme - hope, love, joy, and peace.  She writes about how her actual Christmas season pans out as she tries to keep her focus on these different themes each week.  

It might seem like reading about someone else's Christmas experience wouldn't be overly helpful, but I actually found this whole book really encouraging.  Because it wasn't perfect, and she was busy, and she cried a couple times, but in the end she found she enjoyed the season more because amidst the busyness she took time to focus on her themes, and how they relate to the reason we celebrate in the first place!  

I loved how she ties it all back around to the nativity, and how God became a man in order to save us.  It wasn't preachy, just reflective, and it gave me hope that maybe this Christmas season I can find time to prepare my heart too.  That's really what I think I'm personally missing during December, the focus on Jesus's birth.  I've usually blamed it on not enough time or space to really reflect, but I have tried preparing early and the busyness still gets to me - I need to find time to focus on Christ in the midst of all the Christmas tasks, and this book encouraged me that it's possible.

(I also just have to say that I LOVE the idea of Christmastide that she includes in this book - i.e.. extending the Christmas celebration and reflection beyond the actual holiday.  I think this might provide me some of that space and time that I want so desperately at Christmas.)

The line that really got me was in the last part of this book:

"...I wondered if that's the point of this Christmas.  The over and over.  The message on repeat.  In all circumstances. Whether we acknowledge it or not, this message of "I love you" this love note of a Savior wrapped in swaddling clothes - more importantly, wrapped in skin - is to be the wave over us every year. "I love you."  And again, "I love you".  And a year later, when we've had a heck of a go at life and things aren't looking as we thought the would or should, "I love you" again." pg. 91

Isn't that a beautiful way to look at the Christmas season?  As a yearly reminder, a yearly "I love you" from the Lord.  I hope to take that attitude with me this year and leave some of the stress behind.

Overall, I recommend this book if you are consistently finding yourself stressed out every Christmas season - it encouraged me, and I'm hoping to take some of her ideas into the season in a couple months!

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

Recent Reads




I had every intention of doing a reading update every quarter this year...and that obviously didn't happen.  I've been meaning to write this post for the last six months.  Whoops!  I've been really enjoying reading everyone else's book round-ups lately, so I finally felt inspired to write up my thoughts.  These are a few of my most recent reads...excluding the books that I've already posted about on this blog.  To see everything I've read in 2017 so far, you can check out my Goodreads shelf (I write full reviews for every book I read on there).

Fiction

I've found that I typically can't handle really heavy or depressing fiction since I found out I was pregnant...so I've felt myself drawn to middle-grade fiction lately.  I think I've discovered a new favorite genre!  Not only can middle-grade fiction be surprisingly deep, but there is no danger of inappropriate language or situations, which I also have little patience for these days.

(Some affiliate links below...to help support my reading habits, you know!)




Flipped (5 stars) - If you've never seen this movie, GO RENT IT FROM THE LIBRARY RIGHT NOW!  It's an adorable coming of age/ middle school crush plot.  And I think I've mentioned before how I'm a sucker for coming of age stories.  The book is basically the movie in written form - they stuck really close to the book with the movie, so you could really read the book or see the movie and not miss much.  Needless to say, I loved every minute of it.




Wonder (4 stars) - This is coming out as a movie soon, so there's been some buzz around the book...and the audio was only $4, so I decided to try it.  I really enjoyed this story, about a boy with a facial deformity, and how he copes with it as he starts at a new school.  I totally fell in love with the characters in this book, and I thought it struck a nice balance between addressing more serious topics (like bullying) while still being fun to read (listen to), and not too painful for my pregnant sensibilities. I took off one star because of some references to reincarnation, which I thought parents should be aware of should their kids read this book.



 

Austenland/Midnight In Austenland (4 stars) - Total fluff.  I know it's total fluff.  But I loved every minute of these books too!  The plots of these books are based around a secretive vacation spot where women can go live for two weeks completely immersed in a Jane-Austen-era experience - included actors who romance them, so they can be just like an Austen heroine.  Some sexual innuendos in these books, but generally pretty mild compared to most secular fiction.  The plots were just too fun, I laughed out loud several times, and the endings were cute.  I liked the second one even better than the first, but start with the first.


 

The Ark Plan/Code Name Flood (4 stars) - These novels are set in the future, after biologists bring back the dinosaurs, and the dinosaurs take over the world, forcing mankind underground.  If that plot synopsis doesn't suck you in, I can't do anything for you.  Nothing too meaningful in these books, and some evolutionary references, but I could hardly put them down.




The Secret Keeper (5 stars) - I read grown-up fiction too, really!  This was my first Kate Morton book, and I'm kind of scared to fully dive into another one now, because I loved this book so much.  I'm not sure any of her other novels will compare.  The thing that really drove this up on my list of favorites this year was the way the book ended.  There was a twist, and I loved the way it all turned out.  I don't do sad endings.  See Goodreads review for full content disclaimers, but I really liked it.




The Husband's Secret (1.5 stars) - I keep trying Moriarty books because I liked What Alice Forgot so much, but I've generally been disappointed.  Nothing can measure up to Alice.  I really didn't like this one.  A lot more inappropriate content than some of her books, and I didn't like all the cheating.  It left me regretting the time I spent reading it.  Bleh.


Non-Fiction

I've read some pretty stellar non-fiction this year, and several of those books already received their own review on the blog, so please check them out here!   Here are a few more though.




Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide To Unshakeable Peace (5 stars) - I listened to the audio of this, and I thought there was a lot of encouragement and practical advice for homeschool moms here.  I'll probably re-read this one again, to catch some of the stuff I missed on audio, but I found it really helpful to gear me up for starting homeschooling this fall.




Boundaries (4 stars) - This is practically a classic, but I've never read it before a couple months ago.  I picked it up because I've recognized that I am one of those people that often has trouble saying no, and I've been trying to get better at it this last year.  This book is about setting boundaries in your various relationships, and also with yourself.  I didn't agree with everything in it, but it was still an interesting read!  If you're into psychology at all, you'd also probably find this one interesting.




Escape (4 stars) - Prepare to be disturbed if you pick this one up!  Carolyn Jessop tells her story of escaping the fundamentalist Mormon church.  I found a lot of the (pretty graphically described) abuse in this book disturbing, but it was also hard to put down because I wanted to see how she finally escaped.  It ended on a bit of a hopeless note though, which didn't help with my general level of disturbedness (that's a word, right?) - but I did learn a lot about Mormonism, and it made me add Jessop to my prayer list.



Why Men Hate Going To Church (3.5 stars) - I've heard this author speak on a couple of my podcasts, so when the audio of this book went on sale, I grabbed it.  He brings up a lot of interesting points about why church (as in church services on Sunday) is not appealing to a lot of men.  The thing that bugged me about this book was that a lot of his points were supported by personal anecdotes...I thought the book would have been a lot stronger if he could have provided some research to back up his thoughts.  However, it did get me thinking about how churches are generally more geared toward women (which is pretty undeniable), and what to look for in a church if you want your man and/or sons to feel at home.  It came in pretty handy since we've been in a position of looking for a new church recently.




Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church And What You Can Do To Stop It (5 stars) - I read this book for free online, and you can too!  Or you can buy the Kindle version for only $3 right now.  We are young earth creationists and Ken Ham fans in this house - if you aren't, your toes may be stepped on with this book, I'm not going to lie.  Ham argues that a big reason many young people have left church is because they do not take a strong view on the authority of Scripture (including Genesis) - and he presents evidence that they are picking this up because of a weakened view of Scripture in our churches (and homes).  Unlike the book above, this one was really well supported by a survey study, and Ham breaks down the results and gives his opinion on where we are going wrong.  I found it really fascinating, and once again, the points he made were good to think about as we were picking a new church.




Currently, I am reading World Religions And Cults: Volume One by Bodie Hodge (really interesting and informative so far), Loving My Actual Christmas by Alexandra KuyKendall (I need as much help as I can get in this area), and More Than Just Making It by Erin Odom (financial stuff, which I could also use help with since our budget is a lot more restricted this year).  I've also abandoned many books that just weren't doing it for me this summer (maybe those deserve an extra post).

Have you read any of these? What have you been reading lately?

Books For Littles - Night, Night Train Review



 
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I am preparing a post for next week about homeschooling and all our curriculum choices - it's exciting having older kids and introducing them to some of the books I loved as a kid!  I am loving that we get to dip our toes into chapter books, and when my kids recognize a literary character my heart is just so happy.

However, one thing I am trying to be cognizant of is that while I am a mom to an elementary school kid now...I am also still a mom to toddlers and preschoolers.  And they need some books geared toward them too.  I'm trying to make sure I make time to read books that are on their level during our homeschool day too!



Tommy Nelson has so many adorable books for younger kiddos, and my recent favorite is Night Night, Train by Amy Parker.  This book goes through different night-time routines as the characters prepare to board the train to "Sleeptown".  All in rhyme!  (I am particularly fond of books that rhyme.) If that doesn't give you an idea of how cute this book is, let's look at some pictures, shall we?




Not only are the illustrations adorable, but this book is about trains!  Trains are Clyde's current favorite subject, and one of the transportation words that Clarice has latched onto, so this book is perfect for our family right now.  We'll definitely be incorporating it into our nighttime routine!

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


Praying For Girls Review



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I wrote a couple months ago about verses I want to pray for my daughters, and I mentioned in that post that I wish someone would write a book about praying for girls - well, little did I know that book was in the works!  I snagged Praying For Girls by Terri Lynne Underwood as soon as I saw it, because it seemed so timely.

This book covers 20 different prayers to pray specifically for our girls.  Each chapter starts with a personal story and commentary from the author, then moves into fill-in-the-blank prayers (a pre-written prayer where you can insert your daughter's name).  Each chapter closes with a section for moms (since we often struggle with the same things we are praying for our daughters!), and a practical suggestion section, with activities for opening up the conversation with our "little", "middle", and "big" girls.

I really liked the idea of this book and the way it was organized.  I thought the author brought up a lot of specific things to pray for girls that I wouldn't have thought about.  Though I was a girl once, I often forget just how many emotions and struggles I had as a girl - and this book was a good reminder for me to try to put myself back there when I'm raising my daughters, so I can remember the kind of things they are likely going through and pray for them!

Still, I kept having mixed feelings about this book as I read it.  At times I really appreciated what the author was saying thought this was a great guide.  At other times, I felt like it was missing...something.  I think in a lot of ways this book focused so intently on struggles girls may have in their growing-up years, and part of what was missing for me was a more wide-angle view of not only their current struggles, but praying for the kind of women we want our daughters to become.  Maybe not everyone will agree with me on that, but it's the closest I can get to explaining what wasn't quite working for me.  I wanted focus not only on the feel-good prayers for our girls (ex: knowing she's loved, loving others, having an undivided heart for the Lord), but also for qualities of character (love for truth, courage, honesty, etc).  I felt this book was a little more focused on the former, which are certainly important things!  But when I think about the women I hope my girls will become I also largely think about praying they will be women of character, so I would have liked more character-qualities addressed here too.

I also thought the author shared an awful lot about her daughter's struggles in this book, and I found myself wincing at times and hoping that she got her daughter's permission to share certain things!  She probably did, but I can't remember if she spelled that out for the reader.  

Overall, I would recommend this book, but I think a more general praying-for-children book would be a good companion read as well!

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

The Lucky Few Review



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I'm not sure what made me pick up The Lucky Few by Heather Avis.  I didn't follow her Instagram account, and had never heard of her before.  But I am so glad I grabbed this book!

In The Lucky Few, Heather tells her motherhood story - how she struggled with infertility, finally decided on adoption, only to discover that God was leading her and her husband to adopt a little girl with Down Syndrome.  

The author really tells this story well - even when she was describing the more ordinary bits of motherhood I found myself completely caught up in the book.  This is not only an interesting story, but also a powerful testimony of the beautiful things God can do with someone who is willing to take the gifts He is offering, even when they may not look they way we thought.

This book was a quick read, and uplifting and encouraging.  I highly recommend it!

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

The Most Misused Stories In The Bible (Highly Recommend)



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I saw this book, and the title intrigued me.  I wanted to know "The Most Misused Stories In The Bible"!  I am so glad I picked it up because this book exceeded my expectations.

Bargerhoff tackles so many issues and misinterpretations in this book, some that I was not even expecting.  However, the part that I was really pleased with is how he incorporates principles for proper biblical interpretation while sharing these stories.  He not only tells you how and why they are misunderstood, but how a proper Bible study method and interpretation of Scripture can help us avoid similar mistakes.

Everything in this book was biblically sound, the author shows the biblical support for his arguments about how certain Bible stories are misused, and he really got me thinking about new things with some of the stories he presented.  He also is not afraid to shy away from controversial topics, taking a strong stand on the truth of God's Word.

The drawback of having literally no complaints about a book is that the review ends up being rather short - but it's a pleasant problem to have.  This book was excellent, and I'd highly recommend it.  I think I'll be picking up the other book by the author, The Most Misused Verses In The Bible as well!

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

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.

Maternity Fashion: My New Favorite Park Day Dress

(Note: I received the maternity dress I am wearing here for free from PinkBlush in exchange for this feature post.)


For this pregnancy (and my pregnancy with Clarice), I've received several comments to the effect of "Poor you!  Is it hard being pregnant through the summer?"

To which my answer is: no.  I actually enjoy being pregnant in the summer better than in the winter, and the major reason is cute maternity dresses!



When you are pregnant in the winter, you still have to dress winter-appropriately, which means lots of layers on top of my belly.  I hate that.  Summer pregnancies mean lighter fabrics, and comfortable, flown maternity dresses - and that's a huge plus in my book!

We took a quick trip to the park the other day, and I broke out my new favorite maternity dress from Pink Blush.  This dress is seriously the most comfortable dress I own.  The fabric is so soft, it doesn't restrict me at all while covering everything comfortably - which makes it the perfect park-day dress, because I can run after the kids and move around so easily in it!




















I dressed it up a little with the white leather vest for church, but I abandoned the vest pretty quickly at the park - I actually like the look of the dress even better without it.  The best part is that I think this particular dress is roomy and comfortable enough to last me through the rest of this pregnancy, and I'll be able to wear it post-baby too!

Where is your favorite place to buy maternity dresses?  
Have you ever tried PinkBlush maternity clothes?  And what do you think, aren't dresses the best part of being pregnant in the summer? (Unless you're not a dress kind of girl, in which case the "poor you!" might actually be applicable!)




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.

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.
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