Tuesday, December 27

This Thing of Ours: How Faith Saved My Mafia Marriage

This Thing of Ours is an amazing true story of a young woman married to a powerful mobster. I was entirely captivated by it!  Before it even came in the mail, I was researching Cammy Franzese & her husband Michael, notorious mobster-turned-redeemed-Christian. 

Cammy's writing style is personal.  She writes the way a woman would talk to her friend.  This Thing of Ours is, essentially, a testimony of what she and her husband have experienced and how God has pulled them through, redeeming their own hearts as well as their marriage.

Here's a short synopsis:

Cammy Franzese didn’t expect to raise her children alone while Michael served hard time. And she certainly didn’t anticipate what would happen when he finally made the stunning decision to turn his back on “the life” and become a devout Christian. Now Cammy shares the details of her painful and joyful journey, including:
--How, as a Christian, she met and married Michael when he was an unbeliever and a high-profile mobster
--The high life she lived in their first year of marriage when she had more money than she knew what to do with
--What it was like being under law-enforcement scrutiny, dealing with death threats, harassment from the FBI, and having to move several times to protect their family
--How she stayed faithful to Michael and raised their children on her own while he was locked up for eight years
Readers will learn why Cammy stayed in a marriage loaded with so much heartache and struggle. With painful honesty, she speaks about restoration, miracles, and the confidence we can have knowing God prepares us for the challenges and obstacles we will one day have to face.

Google Cammy and Michael Franzese--you'll be amazed at their story! You can also read the first few pages of the book on Amazon. I can almost gurantee that, if you do, you'll want to get your hands on this book!

A special thanks to the wonderful people at Thomas Nelson for providing me with this book in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

When the Soul Mends

When the Soul Mends is sweet Amish fiction that makes nice, light reading.  This is the first book I've read by Cindy Woodsmall; the characters and their stories quite captivated me.  I read it quickly.  If you're interested in the Amish people, of the way they live, believe, and in the differences between Amish and Mennonites (it's all very interesting, I think!) then you'll like this series. 

Yes, this book is actually third in a 3-part series entitled Sisters of the Quilt.  While I didn't read the first two books in this series, I wasn't at all lost in this one.  The author gave the perfect amount of backstory. 

In When the Soul Mends, the heroine, Hannah, is torn between the Amish world and the "Englisher" world.  For heart-breaking reasons that were completely out of her control, she had been shunned years earlier.  Something brings her back and she finds forgiveness and healing.  Honestly, at many points in this book, I didn't exactly like her.  She had her flaws, like all of us do, and at the end of the story, she changed into someone I admired. She also chose the man I wanted her to choose, so that raised her up in my estimation.  ; )  If you like light, inspirational reading, I wholeheartedly recommend When the Soul Mends.

Special thanks to the wonderful people at Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me with this book!

Tuesday, December 6

Just in Case You Ever Wonder: A Picture Book

I knew this picture book by Max Lucado would be great because everything he writes for both children and adults is always wonderful!

Just in Case You Ever Wonder is a book both my children and I enjoyed.  It's a sweet book to read aloud to them and teaches them that their father in Heaven and you, their mom or dad, will always love them no matter what.... just in case they ever wonder.

"As you grow and change, some things will stay the same. I'll always love you. I'll always hug you. I'll always be on your side. And I want you to know that ... just in case you ever wonder."

The illustrations are colorful and the story is short and sweet... though not too short.  You can see an excerpt here.  This book would make a wonderful Christmas gift!

The wonderful people at Booksneeze provided us with this book in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Tuesday, November 8

Bible Stories for Preschoolers

Tyndale Kids just came out with this great new bible--Bible Stories "for the wiggly, giggly preschooler in your life!"  Each story has three sections:
  • Talk: Simple questions and discussion questions to get little kids talking about the bible story.
  • Do: Fun games & activities that kids can do over and over.
  • Remember: Key bible verses (from actual bible translations) that kids can tuck away in their hearts.
I like Bible Stories for Preschoolers for very little kids, though it's a little bit too cartoonish for my 4 year old.  I like bible story books to have more realistic pics because it makes the bible seem more real.  I recommend this particular bible storybook for 1-3 year olds.  I do love the bible activities that are included with each story & will be using those ideas for my Sunday school preschoolers & for my 4, 6, & 7 year olds at home along with their regular bible time.

Today we read the story of Jacob's Ladder.  The story was good & well-explained for little ears.  At the end, the activity it suggested was to make a ladder out of popsicle sticks & to draw pictures of places your kiddos go on index cards.  Then, they can thank God for going with them to that place.  The memory verse goes perfectly with the activity:

I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go.  Genesis 28:15

Bible Stories for Preschoolers is complete with 49 important bible stories, great memory verses, and unique activities.  I definitely recommend it to any parent of preschoolers!  It also has a section on "Preschoolers and Salvation" that I thought was very important and wasn't something I'd seen in other children's bibles.

I received this book from Tyndale in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Friday, November 4

A Lasting Impression Book Tour & Contest

A fake. A forger. More than anything, Claire Laurent longs for the chance to live an authentic life, to become the woman she wants to be. And she'll be given that choice. But will it come at too costly a price?

Tamera Alexander's most recent release, A Lasting Impression, definitely left a lasting impression with me!  The heroine's story was so intriguing and there was so much mystery that my attention was well held throughout every page.  Claire is an artist who is forced to paint replicas of famous artwork... and to sell them as originals.  After a murder, she is forced to run away... and then her story really begins.  A dashing man, a beautiful mansion, a dash of mystery, and circumstances that open the eyes of someone who sees herself as a forgery but who ends up finding Truth all make for a wonderful story.

Nearing the end, I wasn't sure how A Lasting Impression would end... this is one of those not-at-all-too-predictable books!  And I have a terrible confession to make--I turned to the last page to read it & satisfy my curiosity!  I very rarely do that, but I could hardly help myself.  I went back and read everything I had missed to fill in the little blanks and still thoroughly enjoyed it all.

As Historical fiction goes, this book was spectacular.  As Christian fiction goes, it wasn't as fulfilling as other Christian Historical fiction by authors like Francine Rivers & George MacDonald (whose standards are very high to live up to, I'll admit).  It was great entertainment and I doubt it will challenge you spiritually but I recommend it, nonetheless, for its great story & encouraging message.

Enter to win one of Tamera's fabulous prizes and RSVP for her Facebook Party on 11/15!

This book was provided to me by the wonderful people at Litfuse.

Friday, October 7

Along Wooded Paths: Enchanting Amish Fiction

Along Wooded Paths is an honest and thought-provoking look at Amish life which takes place in beautiful Montana.  The simplicity of the Amish has always captivated me and I've read enough books about them to understand how they differ from Protestant Christians.  Watching a story unfold that seems as true as fiction comes, reading a story in which a beautiful Amish girl struggles to find her place in the world as she discovers God's grace, was so heart-warming!  The main character, Marianna, lives out a love story as she tries to decide between 2 men, one of which has helped her to realize what a close relationship with God can be like.  I have to admit, both of Marianna's guys were very likeable but there was one I liked more than the other... and he was the one she didn't choose in the end.  Still, this book is not really "the end" so my hopes have not quite been dashed yet! 

My only concern is that I have to wait until the last book in the series comes out in 2012 to find out what "the end" really is!  I'm afraid I almost didn't read this book because I knew I'd be hooked on the story and characters and wouldn't be able to actually read the last book 'til next year... but I did agree to post a book review this week & my word is gut (Amish for "good")!

You can read the beginning of Along Wooded Paths at Amazon.  Please do--I think you'll be captivated with the story and the characters.  The book has a wonderful message, is written beautifully, and I highly recommend it!

The author, Tricia, is celebrating the release of Along Wooded Paths with a Fabulous Facebook party on October 18th. She'll be giving away prizes and a sneak peak at the next book in the Big Sky series (which I cannot wait to read!!)  You can sign up by clicking the button on the left sidebar.

For now, check out these lovely videos about Marianna's continuing story:

This book was provided by me by the awesome people at Litfuse in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Tuesday, October 4

America: The Last Best Hope

I discovered the very talented historian William J. Bennett when I found a hardcover edition of "The Book of Virtues for Young People" at a used bookstore.  If that book is "a treasury of great moral stories for children," then "America: The Last Best Hope" is a treasury of our country's great moral history for grown-ups.

But America: The Last Best Hope is not dry history (which is something I ardently detest!)  It's incredibly interesting and will instill a greater love in you for our country.  Our foundations and beginnings make us a country different from any other.  The book I received for review is the last book in the series.  It tells the historical story of America that includes most of the time I've been alive in it, so that made it very significant to me.

Whatever your political opinions or bent, this book is worth reading!  "A great piece of work" "adults will find refreshing and enlightening," commentators say.

The back cover explains it all so much better than I can:

American began to breathe easy at the close of the Cold War and loosened its grip on the fear of nuclear confrontation for the first time since World War 2.  Peace was palpable, but in retrospect the years between 1988 and 2008 were as rocky as they were uncertain.  Turbulence, not tranquility, marked the turn of the century... Bennett captures this recent chapter in the American story with piercing insight and unrelenting optimism.

This book was provided to me by the awesome people at Thomas Nelson in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Wednesday, September 14

The Perfect Love: Intensely Personal, Overflowing, Neverending...

I wanted so much to read The Pefect Love because it had so many amazing reviews.  Woman after woman talked about how this book was her favorite "after the bible."  So much Christian living writing fails to grasp me.  So much of it seems empty and falls short of giving me a closer glimpse into who Jesus is.  This book isn't like that.  It really will show you "where to find the kind of love you really need."  Whether you're searching for that kind of love or just want more of it, this book is definitely for you.

According to the book's forward, there are 3 main reasons why people have difficulty believing that God really loves them:
  • They see God more as a judge than as their father.
  • They don't see God meeting their expectations and desires.
  • They don't take the time to cultivate the depth of relationship with God that love requires.
I love the way Ruth Myers weaves timeless hymns together with God's Word & her own experiences as she's loved Him over the years in order to show us the kind of deep relationship we can have with Him.  The Perfect Love is a book that you can come back to again and again to read slowly and prayerfully as God changes your heart and draws you closer to Him than you have ever been before... or than you have been for a long time.  I haven't yet finished this book, but I'm reading it slowly and I'm grateful that the wonderful people at Blogging for Books provided for me to review!

You can begin reading The Perfect Love at Amazon via their "look-inside feature."  You'll be glad you did!

This book was provided by the wonderful people at Blogging for Books for review purposes.

Saturday, September 10

Life of John Newton... writer of Amazing Grace

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.

We all know those words and many of us, because of the movie Amazing Grace, know a little about John Newton, who wrote them later in his life.  But do we know how truly "wretched" he was?  His wretchedness gives such hope to me!  He was terribly rotten, denied God numerous times, participated in the slave trade while he was a strong Christian (did you know that?!) and thought nothing was wrong with it, and God continued to draw Him closer, to save him, to change his life & to change his mind. 

Was blind, but now I see.

Surely John Newton was still blind in many ways even for years after giving his life to God.  When we read about his life, about the "dangers, toils and snares" through which he "came," it give the song Amazing Grace so much more depth & meaning.   This book is short, only 141 pages, and it only just begins to go into the "Life of John Newton."  It's a wonderful starting point and a beautiful book itself.  Originally published in 1831 just 24 years after Newton's death, it's been republished by Attic Books to look much like the original book.  The edges of the pages are ridged, the typeface is old-fashioned, and it feels like reading an old book... except for the smell.  If they could include that wonderfully musty smell of old books, it'd be perfect!  Life of John Newton makes me want to know even more about him, even though now I understand so much more of what God brought him through.  I can hold to the words he held to:

'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
When we've been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.

--John Newton, 1773

This book was provided to me by the wonderful people at New Leaf Publishing in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Fyodor Dostoevsky... Russian, Revolutionary, Christian

I've always been amazed by Russia... it's fascinating history, it's beautiful architecture, it's haunting stories of royal intrigue.  And I love biographies.  They've got something fiction doesn't have.  Fiction can inspire, but biographies of real people with real flaws who were nevertheless used by God in extraordinary ways... those are truly inspiring!

I first read a bit about Fyodor Dostoevsky when he was mentioned in The Russians historical fiction series by Judith Pella (my favorite book series in the whole wide world--read it if you haven't!)  I was eager to read more about him in the Christian Encounters series. 

Fyodor Dostoevsky was a Russian writer and thinker who lived right before the Russian Revolution.  Born in 1821, he grew up during a time of political unrest, uncertainty, and talk of revolution.  There were many noteable Russian writers during this time in history, but Fyodor Dostoevsky was one of the few who didn't approve of Socialism and Marxism that were slowly building up a foothold in Russia.  Dostoevsky is most well known for writing the famous Crime and Punishment, but when he was banished to Siberia, he wrote Notes of the Underground which influenced many, many people. 

19c St. Petersburg in Winter

The story of Dostoevsky's banishment to Siberia is all-God!  He was supposed to be killed by firing squad on a wintry morning.  He actually walked toward the firing squad in St. Petersburg but suddenly, it seems almost miraculously, it was decided he would not be killed but would be banished to Siberia.  God obviously spared his life so that he could fight "for the common people and for truth."  After reading so much Russian history, it's exciting to discover more about the life of a Russian revolutionary who lived for Jesus and devoted his life and writings to Him.  You can begin reading the story here

I'd like to read all the Christian Encounters books.  Don't bury yourself in fiction!  It has it's place and I'm very fond of it, but nothing besides God's word will change your life like the biography of an ordinary person who did extraordinary things for the only One worth living for!

This book was provided to me by the wonderful people at Booksneeze in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Tuesday, September 6

The Family Illustrated Bible

As a little girl, my first introduction to the bible was The Children's Illusrated Bible.  It was big and blue with drawings that drew me into the story.  I remember sitting in the waiting room of General Motors as my parents negotiated for hours, buying a new car.  I sat there and read that illustrated bible.  I may have even read the whole thing.  Either way, I read a lot of it and I was introduced to the story of God and His love for me.

The Family Illustrated Bible is pretty amazing!  My favorite parts of it are the amazing 2 page photographs of places like the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, and Jerusalem.  It also includes classical artwork and photos of archaelogical artifacts.  It ends with great picture dictionaries of People of the Old Testament & People of the New Testament, and a thorough Index.

My only qualm with The Family Illustrated Bible is that it's called a "bible."  Honestly, it's not any type of interpretation of the bible.  If anyone uses this as their "bible," they're going to be missing out on God's word.  This is a book of bible stories, but not an actual bible.  It's an amazing resource, yes, and one I think would be a great addition to any bookshelf but should not substitute your time in God's Word.

This book was provided to me by the wonderful people at New Leaf Pub. in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Right From the Heart

Right from the Heart is a 365 day devotional and it's a pretty good one.  I think it would be especially good for a new Christian or someone with a lot of doctrinal questions because it deals with things that are unfamiliar to a lot of newer believers.  It's also encouraging and enlightening for those older Christians, as well.  Usually, I prefer to write my own devotionals and, when I do seek someone else's devotionals I like to be able to skip around.  I don't like to be confined to just 1 page or 1 topic or a date at the top right corner.  This book is meant to be savored for a year and is a bit rigid if you follow the guidance.  I don't.  I find a topic that sounds like what I need to read and I read it.  I like this book that way, and wouldn't like it if I stuck to the daily scheduled reading. 

Each daily devotional in Right from the Heart begins with a verse and then 3-4 paragraphs that expound on it and offer insight.  This book isn't meant to replace your bible or prayer time, but it's a good starting point to your time with Jesus.  You can read the first few pages of it here.

I definitely recommend Right from the Heart, especially if you're a new Christian or someone who's been a Christian for awhile but is finally starting to get serious.  Besides that, it's a pretty book and would make a good coffee table decoration.  Maybe a friend or family member will thumb through it and get inspired!

This book was provided to me by the wonderful people at Booksneeze in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review. 

Monday, August 29

My Awesome God Bible Storybook

I get pretty excited about new bibles and the My Awesome God Bible Storybook from Discipleland is definitely awesome.  The illustrations are nice and colorful.  It includes a great index at the end so you can easily find stories associated with a theme you want to teach your little ones from like "Who God Is," "What God is Like," and "What God Does."  Each bible story is just a couple of pages and includes:

  • Character Traits about God like "God is generous," ""God strengthens us," "God is awesome," and lots more.
  • Big Ideas that explains how the Bible story reveals God's character.
  • Questions that encourage kids to talk about bible truths.  My little guy is very excited to have his "own" bible.  He had a "baby" bible but he's taken it a step up with this one. 
One thing I noticed and loved right away about this bible is that it includes a lot of great stories you don't usually find in children's bibles.  For example, it tells about Gideon, Joash, Hezekiah, and Josiah, along with a lot of very important people who did awesome things for God.  This little kids bible actually inspired me to dig deeper into God's word and to write my latest devotional story, Jochebed's Baby.

The people who created My Awesome God Bible Storybook wrote it so that "your kids will delight in knowing more and more about the Lord of the universe."  That's pretty awesome!

Thursday, August 18

The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck

A fun read.  Delightful, engaging, charming, and yes, funny. 

That's how Miss Lauraine Snelling described another book by Kathleen Y'Barbo, and it definitely describes her most recent story The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck.  This book captured my interest from the first when I read the beginning using Amazon's awesome look-inside feature.  I knew this was a book I'd like to read.  Besides being a good story, it's filled with historical quotes from Miss Pence, though I could not find out whether she was a real person or imagined.  "A lady should find a focal point on the opposite side of the room and walk toward it, head held high," Miss Pence advises. "If that focal point has a title and a hefty bank account, so much the better."  

The heroine of the story, Charlotte Beck, does end up landing a hefty bank account through her inconvenient marriage.  The bank account is her father's, though, and not her new husband's.  The marriage is, actually, convenient in that it allows Charlotte to fulfill her new dream of going to college and it save's the Alex's family from financial ruin. The marriage is only inconvenient in that the bride and groom don't love each other. 

In all honesty, I loved Alex Hambly right away!  He recalls to my mind Rhett Butler--dashing and handsome.  Unlike Rhett Butler, he is only mildly ungentlemanly at times and is, perhaps, what Rhett Butler would have been had he become a Christian.

Alex and Charlotte have an interesting relationship that is both coy and tense, and turns into something much more.  I loved reading a book that dealt with 1800s arranged marriage.  Honestly, so many marriages were arranged back then, you'd expect to find more fiction dealing with it.  Perhaps writers think that readers in our oh, so feminist culture won't go for that, but I loved reading a story that showed how a couple could marry without love and still learn to love one another.

Inconvenient?  Hm...

This book was provided by the wonderful people at Waterbrook Press in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Monday, July 25

My First Hands-On Bible: Experience the Fun! Live the Truth!

I was so excited to receive this new Hands-On Bible for preschoolers!  Since my children were 2-years old, I've been using a Hands-On Bible Curriculum as part of our homeschool program.  I love it because it sounds like just what it is--totally hands-on!  Who doesn't love hands-on stuff?  It's so much more fun, and so much more real when you're learning by doing whether you're 3 or 33.

My First Hands-On Bible didn't disappoint me.  Last night, I used it while teaching twenty 3 and 4 year olds during church bible class.  They paid attention to the short story we read called "Samuel Hears God."  This bible uses the new living translation and also has a lot of fun hands-on kinds of things to do right in the middle of each story.  For example, every time I read about Samuel sleeping, the children were supposed to put their heads on their hands as if they were sleeping.  My students got really into it and even started snoring.  At the end of each little story is a simple prayer and a message that ties Jesus into the story, whether it's in the Old Testament of the New.  This is the awesomest bible I've found for young children!  It's marketed for preschoolers but my 7 year olds also get a lot out of it.

You can download your own samples of Hands-On Bible Curriculum here and read about it at the creator's site Group.com.  Sunday Schools and home schooling parents all over the country use it.... and with this new bible, I'm thinking many more parents are going to discover how awesome Hands-On Bibles are!

This book was provided to me for free from Tyndale House in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Sunday, July 24

Desiring God: Finding Complete Satisfaction & Joy in God!

This DVD set is based off John Piper's life motto and his book of almost the same name: "Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist."  People don't use the word "hedonist" much today but they're all over the place.  Hedonists are people who live for pleasure.  Everything they're about is in seeking pleasure for themselves.

So what's it mean to be a Christian Hedonist?  I'm one... at least, I hope I am!  A Christian Hedonist is someone who lives to seek pleasure... in God!  This DVD series or the book (whichever you choose, and I do hope you choose one of them) is all about living for your deepest joy, for the glory of God, and finding perfect satisfaction in that while living free to seek pleasure in Him.  You can read the beginning of the book here at Amazon.

Jesus really is the only one we can go to for complete joy, and we should never feel guilty for feeling perfect pleasure in living right and feeling perfect delight as Christians.  These DVDs and the book are so incredibly life-changing, inspiring, and amazing that I hope with all my heart you'll look into one of them if you can.

My hubby and I discovered John Piper last year when our church pastor recommended one of his books.  Mr. Piper is so gifted by God with great understanding and the gift of writing.  His books are so encouraging, thought-provoking, and life-changing.  We own the book "Desiring God" and when I saw that it is now also a 10-part DVD series from Multnomah, I jumped at the chance to review it.

If you can't afford to invest in a DVD series or a new book, I urge you--check out John Piper's blog at http://www.desiringgod.org/blog!  There are so many articles there that will give you wisdom and make you think about important issues.  If you want to desire God more & find complete satisfaction the only way it can be found, check it out!

This DVD set was provided to me by the wonderful people at Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Tuesday, July 19

It Couldn't Just Happen: Knowing the Truth About God's Awesome Creation!

This textbook-like Creation Science book is a must-have for any Christian wondering about evolution and the reliability of God's word.  Contrary to what seems to be popular belief in some Christian circles, you cannot believe both the bible and Evolution.  The bible teaches that sin brought death into the world--before humans sinned, there was no death.  But in order for Evolution to be true, something had to die to create something else... and secular Scientists will tell you that for billions of years, numerous things died before humans even existed.

This book goes into pretty much everything you need to know about Creation Science and why Evolution isn't true (I'm not talking about natural selection--that's not Evolution at all & no Creation Science advocate will tell you otherwise.)  "It Couldn't Just Happen" is appropriate to kids from around 4th grade through adulthood.  It's 234 pages delve into a variety of topics including the universe and its origins, the geologic column, Darwin's Origin of Species, intelligent design, and so much more.  I believe that every Christian and anyone else for that matter who wants to understand what Evolution's really all about should own this book. 

At the end of each chapter, there are great discussion questions.  These aren't questions that have a right or wrong answer but are thought provoking questions that aim to challenge the reader & get them thinking.

The retail price is $14.99 but it's 50% off at Amazon at only $7.87... and if you're a mom and sign up for Amazon Mom for free you can get free 2-day shipping. 

The incredibly awesome people at Thomas Nelson blessed me with this book in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Monday, July 18

The Complete Zoo Adventure: A Fun Creation Science Book!

I was so impressed when I received The Complete Zoo Adventure in the mail; my kids and I love it!  It's hard cover, can be used with kids from Kindergarten through middle school, and includes numerous reproducible activity sheets for younger ages, intermediate, and advanced. 

My kiddos had so much fun learning about the bible (lots of great bible verses are featured), mammals, paws & claws, and so much more and had a great time doing the dot-to-dots and writing activities that came with the book.  There are also 27 Field Fact Cards about animals featured in the book, 3 little Field Journals, and 12 name badges for when you go on a fun real-life zoo trip. 

If you click here, you can use Amazon's "Look Inside" feature to see some of the beautiful pictures yourself.

I was all the more impressed when I realized this book is an affiliate of the Creation Museum in Kentucky.  If you're ever that way, be sure and check it out.  We've been twice and only wished we'd had more time to spend! 

This book would be awesome to use right before you go to the the local zoo or the Creation Museum!  Here are some pics of our second trip there:

The Complete Zoo Adventure book was provide to my by the wonderful people at Master Books, A Division of New Leaf Publishing Group in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Sunday, July 17

More Historical Fiction from Francine Rivers!

Since I discovered Francine Rivers 2 years ago, I have become spoiled with amazingly well-written, life-changing, inspirational fiction. All of her historical books are so well researched that you feel like you're truly there. This is no fiction that was written quickly... it was well thought out and thought-provoking.

Her Mother's Hope is the 1st book in the 2-book series "Marta's Legacy."  I liked this book better than the 2nd and I think that's because I love historical fiction.  The more vintage it feels, the better!  This book begins in pre-WWI Switzerland with a young girl, Marta, who's struggling with a lot of problems in her home--everything from an abusive father to a pampered, weak but loving sister.  Marta is definitely a strong woman.  I can't say I like her character, but her story is interesting and she ends up having an amazing daughter who I absolutely love in this book.  In the next book, well... she's just not who she was in the 1st and that's a disappointment.  All of the women in these books have terrible communication issues--they seem unable to tell and show their daughters they love them.  It's heart-breaking.  The final conclusion of the story in the 2nd book is wonderful, though, when that chain is finally broken.

I enjoyed these books, but not as much as Francine Rivers other series "The Mark of the Lion" which I recommend more highly than any of her others.

Wednesday, July 6

Here Burns My Candle--Historical Fiction at its Finest

All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle. -Saint Francis of Assisi

"A wonderful retelling of the story of Ruth by one of my favorite authors.  Here Burns My Candle is rich with historic detail and living, breathing characters that engaged me from page one right through to the perfect ending." -Francine Rivers

When I saw that Francine Rivers (my favorite modern author) recommended Here Burns My Candle, I was more than eager to read both books in this two-part series. Miss Rivers is well-known for her historical accuracy, compelling stories, and thought-provoking works of literary art. So, it seems, is Liz Curtis Higgs.

Here Burns My Candle is a book that won't disappoint. I read the 2 books out of order but still thoroughly enjoyed them both.  They flow quickly and are filled with secrets, betrayal, loss, redemption, and everything that makes a good tale.  The plots twist and turn with a dash of mystery and wonderment, essentially the story of Ruth and Boaz set in 18th century Scotland. You won't only read a love story of redemption and forgiveness, you'll also learn a great deal about the Jacobite Revolts, King George, Scottish brogue, and other Scottish history.

Read the first chapter here... but I'm warning you, if you do, you might just have to click "Add to Cart".  Miss Higgs weaves a story that seems so incredibly real and is very touching. Skip down a few reviews to read what I've written about the 2nd book in the series.

This book was provided for me by Waterbrook Press in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Tuesday, July 5

The Final Hour--Fast Paced Teenage Fiction

The Final Hour is the 4th (and last) book in the Highlanders series by Andrew Klavan.  This series is super fast-paced with never a dull moment.  One prominent reviewer called it "a thriller that reads like a teenage version of 24... an adrenaline-pumping adventure."  It's definitely that, with the perfect amount of faith woven in.

I wasn't so sure I'd like this book.  After all, I'm more of a historical, Christian romance, classics kinda girl.  I liked it, though, and it's something I'd recommend to any parents with teenaged guy kids.

It's refreshing to find a series that's well-written and fast moving with a good amount of faith elements and minus any junk for that type of audience.  Highly recommend!

The awesome people at Thomas Nelson provided me with this book for review in exchange for a fair and honest opinion.

Thursday, June 23

Mine is the Night: A Page Turning Tale That May Steal Your Nights!

"Mine is the Night was everything I hoped it would be... I loved the historical setting, the details, the love stories, the characters who change and grow.  The pace and story lines kept me turning pages; I couldn't put it down." -Francine Rivers, Christian historical fiction author

When I saw that Francine Rivers (my favorite modern historical fiction author) recommended Mine is the Night, I was more than eager to read it.  Miss Rivers is well-known for her historical accuracy, compelling stories, and thought-provoking works of literary art.  So, it seems, is Liz Curtis Higgs.

Mine is the Night is a book that won't disappoint.  It may certainly keep you up late at night reading its pages. It's the 2nd in a series but it stands alone.  I didn't read the first book (yet) and still thoroughly enjoyed this one.  It's nice and long (a good 450 pages), flows quickly, has plots that twist and turn with a dash of mystery and wonderment, and it's essentially the story of Ruth and Boaz set in 18th century Scotland.  You won't only read a love story of redemption and forgiveness, you'll also learn a great deal about the Jacobite Revolts, King George, Scottish brogue, and other Scottish history.

I've found another author who can hold a candle to Francine Rivers.... and that isn't something easily done, my bonny leddies!

Read the first chapter here... but I'm warning you, if you do, you might just have to click "Add to Cart".  Oh, and if you're a cat lover this book will be even more endearing to you!  The wonderful cat in this book had me reminiscing about and longing for my Bobcat, who I had to give up some years ago.  Miss Higgs weaves a story that seems real and is very touching.  Soon enough, I'll have my hands on Here Burns My Candle and you can be sure you'll be seeing it here!

This book was provided for me by Waterbrook Press in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Tuesday, June 21

A Vision of Lucy: Laugh-out-Loud Fun Historical Fiction!

A Vision of Lucy was a very fun read.  Honestly, I could barely put it down and it often had me laughing out loud so that my hubby had to ask what was so funny and I had to oblige him by reading passages from its pages.  Lucy, an aspiring photographer, aspires to become the artist her mother was.  She dreams that everyone, especially her father, will recognize her gift for what it is.  In an attempt to capture a hard-to-get glimpse of the white stallion, a local legend, Lucy ends up coming face to face with a more recent legend: the Rocky Creek wild man.  The wild man, as you can imagine, turns out not to be wild at all... at least, he's certainly not as wild as the fiery red-head, Lucy!  In the middle of everything, Lucy gets into one silly mess after another and the Rocky Creek "wild man" is always showing up when she needs him.

A Vision of Lucy is probably not a book that will change your life, though it could.  It's good, fun entertainment with likeable characters.  There's not a whole lot of gospel in it but the characters do grow closer to God as a result of their trials and tribulations, and the relationship between Lucy and her earthly father is.... well, you'll have to read the book to find out!  I don't want to give it all away.

Besides being a nice story, the history about photography I learned was incredibly interesting and oftentimes very funny!  The author used wonderful quotes from an old 1870s book by photographer Miss Gertrude Hasslebrink.  They were so great that I found myself reading them out loud to my hubby.  Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Miss Hasslebrink's book The Trials and Travails of a Woman Photographer:

Never say "shoot" when you mean "photograph," especially when talking to a trigger-happy gunslinger.

 Allow yourself to be photographed with politicians, lawyers, or other scoundrels only under threat of death or other dire emergencies.

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach.  For this reason a woman wishing to look appropriately domesticated for her Mail-Order Bride photograph should wear an apron and wield a kitchen utensil (preferably not a rolling pin.

You can read more at Amazon's website with their "look inside feature."  Check it out at A Vision of Lucy!

Thursday, June 9

The Most Wonderful Book Drawing Series for Every Child!

I recently discovered Miss Freddie Levin's 1-2-3 Draw Series and  my daughters absolutely love it.  We received the book 1-2-3 Draw Princesses to review and after seeing how easy the step-by-step directions were to follow and how whimsical the little princesses were, we wanted to try more from the series.  We were excited to find the book 1-2-3 Draw Horses at our local bookstore and my little artist Milena couldn't 
wait to get home and start drawing!

These books are not just about drawing, either.  I found myself reading through 1-2-3 Draw Princesses and getting more interested by the page.  You see, many of the princesses in this book are real princesses who lived in ancient History including Nes Amu, Princess of Ancient Egypt; Eleanor of Aquitane, Princess of France; Jahanara, Princess of India; and Nzinga, Princess of Africa.  Miss Levin gives a short description of each of these princesses along with her step by step instructions for drawing them.  Art combined with History is such a plus for me! 

While I love all of those historical princesses, my favorite just might be the Reading Princess, complete with a Book List of great princess stories--what a perfect touch for the end of this book!

Speaking of pluses, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Freddie Levin has also written the funnest Math book ever!  My children had so much fun learning with Draw Plus Math.  This book is perfect for children in Kinder and 1st Grade and teaches everything from shapes to addition to subtraction to fractions... the list goes on!

If your kiddos love to draw or would like to learn how, please do check out Freddie Levin's wide selection of 1-2-3 Draw titles on Amazon.  There are so many wonderful titles there's sure to be something to peak your little ones interest!  

Wednesday, June 8

God Gave Us Two! An Adorable Picture Book

My children, especially my 5 year old daughter Olivia, are in love with the "God Gave Us..." series of books ever since reading "God Gave Us You" so I was excited to be able to review the next book in the series.

"God Gave Us Two" is a story with a theme of God's goodness in Creation, beautiful pictures, and a story that children of all ages can adore.

The jist of it is that Little Cub will soon have a baby brother or sister and he has lots of questions about that.  He finds out that he will always be special to his Mama and Daddy, and most of all God, no matter what.  Little Cub and the baby cub are "special gifts from God."  "God Gave Us Two" would make a great gift for a little boy or girl who is expecting a new baby in the house.

I highly recommend any of Lisa Tawn Bergren's books.  But at Amazon.com you can use the "look inside" feature to read some of the book and see just how delightful it is for yourself!

This book was provided by the wonderful people at Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Sunday, June 5

Amazing Historical Fiction from Francine Rivers!

Francine Rivers is my favorite modern author.  Since I discovered her books about 2 years ago, I have become spoiled with amazingly well-written, life-changing, inspirational fiction.  All of her historical books are so well researched that you feel like you're truly there.  This is no fiction that was written quickly... it was well thought out and will change your life. 

Even though all of that is so true, I was wary to read "Sons of Encouragement."  That's because I love reading about women... I can relate to them so much more than men, naturally!  But I wound up at the library hungry for something new from Francine Rivers or George MacDonald (my favorite non-modern author).  All they had to choose from was "Sons of Encouragement" or... "Sons of Encouragement."  So, I chose.

And my low expectations were so off!  The fact that the main characters of these books are men didn't do anything to diminish my enjoyment of these stories.  They drew me back to the beginning of God's word and to the Stories of these 5 men who really were just regular men but who were chosen by God for something great.  I love Miss River's books because they show you so clearly God's plan, His goodness, His sovereignty... all in a new way that will make God and the people whose lives we see in the pages of the bible so much more real to you.  "Sons of Encouragement" includes 5 novellas that were originally published as separate books.  Here, you have them all together which is much more convenient.  All of their stories come together to make one marvelous story.

The book includes the stories of Aaron, Caleb, Jonathan, Amos, and Silas.  None of these men are as well-known as the ones they encouraged (Moses, Joshua, David, Israel, and Paul) and we don't hear as much about them as others.  Each of these stories remain as true to the bible as possible, and the author combines accurate history and culture with her own imagination to bring their stories alive and touch your heart.

Tuesday, May 24

Beyond All Measure, Postbellum Historical Fiction

"Beyond All Measure" was fine historical fiction that brought me back to my favorite place: Tennessee.  If you know me very well or read my devotional page, you must know that I'm madly in love with Gatlinburg, Knoxville, and anything Tennessee.  I think it's the most beautiful state in the country! 

"Beyond All Measure" takes place during an exciting time in our nation's history: the postbellum (after the Civil War) South.  In the middle of a love story, we begin to understand what it means to surrender our will to God (whose plan is always so much better than anything we could've come up with on our own!) and we also learn a bit about how our country recovered from perhaps the most devastating war our country has ever faced. 

This wonderful 1865 quote from Miss Carolina Berg sums up the lesson of the story perfectly:

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best--
Lovingly, its part of pain or pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

I must note, I like likeable characters (duh, who doesn't?) and I must also note that Ada, our heroine, is a very cantankerous woman who really isn't very likeable until the last half of the book.  Her character is rounded and changes through her circumstances into someone I would like and would want to call friend.  It's obvious that Wyatt, the hero of the book, who is very charming from the start, only likes Ada at first because she's pretty.  Or perhaps, much like God sees something in us of value when others may not, Wyatt sees something in Ada that no one else can.

"Beyond All Measure" is nice reading.  It may teach you a little history, it may teach you about faith, and it may touch your heart. Now y'all head over yonder to here and read the first 3 chapters of the book!  Decide for yourself whether it's something you'd take a fancy to.

This book was provided to my by the wonderful people at Thomas Nelson in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Monday, May 23

When God Created My Toes!

When I asked my just-turned-7-year-old daughter what this book was about she said quite simply, "About how God created our bodies!"  True true.

This is a cute little story that my daughters, son, and I enjoyed.  It's written in the words of a cute (though mischievous, often trouble-making) little girl who wonders all about when God made her toes, her hips, her knees, and so on.  There's this underlying message, I'd say, that God loves us all the time: even when we're making messes with finger paints on the living room walls (Mom was NOT happy!), getting muddy in the garden, skinning our knees, and tying bonnets on our cats (who don't seem to like that, not one bit).

This is a cute story with nice illustrations and great messages.  It's also a quick read which holds both childrens and parents interest.  The words all rhyme which makes it that much funner to read.  My Olivia's favorite page goes:

When God created my hip, 
Did I hear him say, 
"Hip, hip, hooray!"?  
Did we do a double flip 
when God created my hip?

Lulu likes that part because she's a doing-flips kinda girl.  There's something I think every little one can relate to in this book, and I highly recommend it!

This book was provided to me by Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Tuesday, May 3

Blood Covenant, an Intriguing Zondervan Read

Thousands of years ago, the words of Zechariah the prophet rang out,  
"As for you also, because of the blood of your covenant, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit."  

Miss Lisa Harris based her most recent work of fiction on that scripture and on the reality of conditions for many African refugees who have lived through civil war and trials worse than anything most of us could imagine from homelessness to uncontrollable infectious disease outbreaks to famine to war and worse.  Dealing with even more than those problems with severe water shortages thrown in the mix, the refugees in the book Blood Covenant are surely in a "waterless pit."

While Miss Harris's story deals with a humanitarian crisis that spins seemingly out of control, it is laced with hope and reveals God's faithfulness to His people and our great need for Him.  I've been interested in Africa since I became a Christian 12 years ago because God has given me a heart for people who seem to have such a great need (we take clean water and education for granted so often, don't we?) and who it I can, in various ways and with God's provision, help.  I work with a non-profit organization called Into-Africa.org as many of my blog readers know.  That was why I was so eager to read this book.  It took me longer to read than most fiction books do because there's just so much information in it! It's an amazing story, the characters seem real, and the plot-line is marvelous, though disturbing when the reader realizes that, while this is fiction, the experiences of these African refugees isn't

Blood Covenant takes place in a fictional place in West-Central Africa called Dhambizao which, if it were real, would be next to Gabon on the map.  I was interested to find out what Dhambizao means.  It means the sins are their own.  I'm sure that's significant but can't figure out if it refers to the rebel soldiers, the main characters in the story, or the refugees. Perhaps it refers to all of them.  Of course, the rebel soldiers were men who did unmentionable things.  And, of course, we're all sinners in need of a wonderful and loving savior no matter how "good" we may be.  While most of the main characters in the story already believe that, they realize anew how much we need to rely on Him. We can't "save the world" as many of the people in this book would like to believe, but we can hope in One who can.

I highly recommend Blood Covenant!  It's a very inspirational read and one that you'll find it hard to put down.  You can even read the first chapter of it on-line at Amazon.com but don't buy it from them--buy it from Christianbook.com, they sell it for less (about $9 instead of Amazon's $10 or your local bookstore's $14-ouch!). This book is actually the 2nd in the Mission of Hope series, but it stands alone.  I didn't read the first book in the series and I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

I was provided a copy of this book by the wonderful people at Zondervan in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review.

Monday, May 2

Max on Life: Answers & Insights to Your Most Important Questions

We've loved Max Lucado's works since our little ones fell in love with Hermie the Caterpillar 6 years ago.  Mr. Lucado doesn't just speak to children's hearts, though, he has a special gift of being like Paul the Apostle "all things to all men."  He speaks to your heart through his many works that it seems God has put it upon his heart to write, and God has certainly given him some wisdom when it comes to answering the wide variety of questions he answers in his latest book from Thomas Nelson "Max on Life: Answers and Insights to Your Most Important Questions."

This book deals with questions that fall under the categories of Hope, Hurt, Help, Him/Her, Home, Haves/Have-Nots, and Hereafter.  It deals with topics like grace, calamities, sex, money, heaven and hell.  On the cover, it looks like Mr. Lucado is just sitting back ready to answer your questions and give you advice in such a friendly, nonchalant way.  And it's the perfect cover, because his voice in this book is just that: friendly and nonchalant, conversational and not at all long-winded.

You can just sit down and read "Max on Life" from cover to cover, you can open to a random page and skim the contents, or you can use it as a resource when your friends or family members come to you with those hard questions and you need a little bit of quick insight.  I definitely recommend this book and, honestly, any book by Max Lucado.  He "speaks the truth in love" as God's word (Ephesians 4:15) tells us we should do.  If you head over to Amazon, you can read excerpts of the book through their "Look Inside" feature.

I received this book from the wonderful people at Thomas Nelson to facilitate an honest and thoughtful review.

The Final Summit: A Quest to Find the One Principle That Will Save Humanity

I was interested in this book because it is historical fiction and is supposed to be a motivational, life-changing read.  Perhaps I expected too much from it because of all the hype I had read over this and Andy Andrews other books.  Perhaps from a secular perspective, it's extraordinary.  From a Christian perspective (and this book is supposed to be a Christian book... I think) it falls short.

For example, there's so much humanism here: "the one principle that will save humanity"?!  I believe God's word... there's one thing that can save humanity and it's not anything we can do in and of ourselves and I don't think it falls in to the category of a "principle."  I do believe we can and should do amazing things with the time on earth that God has given us but this book just seemed off.  It's hard to put my finger on exactly why, but even if I hadn't had that nagging feeling as I read through it, the highly anticipated answer to that question would still have been thoroughly disappointing!  What answer does the author tell us is the one principle that will save humanity?  (Spoiler Alert!) "Do something."  Yes, that's right.  "Do something."  All kinds of people with good intentions have "done something" throughout history who have not benefited humanity.  Let you imagination run wild with that truth for a minute.  People may read this book, take that "do something" to heart, and do something absolutely wrong, as good as their intentions may be.

At the end of the book, there is a short "personal declaration" which is what the main character and the other "travelers" (historical figures throughout time) conclude to be, I guess, the model to live by.  I found it very superficial and empty, something to read and sign off on to give your self-esteem a boost, perhaps.  We do need answers about how to live and we do need principles to live by, but don't go to some empty book about how you can be a "successful" person and "save" humanity... serve God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind to discover how to really live to serve humanity.  Go to God's word, and truly wise men like C.S. Lewis and Albert Mohler, to get much better advice than to just do "something."

Thomas Nelson provided me with this book to facilitate a thoughtful and honest review.

Tuesday, April 26

This Little Prayer of Mine

Tonight we read a sweet little picture book: "This Little Prayer of Mine."  I asked my 5 and 6 year old daughters what they thought about it after we read the last page.

Beth said, "I like it but I do like other books better."

Olivia said, "I like it because there is a kitty in it!"

Milena said, "I like the kitty, too!"

As you can see, my daughters like animals.  Animals get their attention better than cute little kiddos like themselves.  (In case you're wondering, the "kitty" in the book is a gift to an old man who needs cheering up).  My kiddos do admittedly like other books more than this one.  Still, that didn't keep them from asking me to read it to them again and again!

From a mommy perspective, I like this book because it doesn't teach just rote prayers like some children's praying books do.  This book is an example of a brother and sister's prayer and they pray about everything, "without ceasing" as the bible tells us we should do.  It shows what a real childlike relationship with God can look like and it shows that we can call on God not just when we need something, but when we're sad, alone, scared, left out, and even selfish.  It's a great book and I definitely recommend it!

The wonderful people at Waterbrook Multnomah provided me this book in order to facilitate a thoughtful and honest review. 

The Girl in the Gatehouse... just like Jane Austen!

I fell in love with Miss Julie Klassen's writing voice upon finishing the first sentence of "The Girl in the Gatehouse."  So reminiscent of Jane Austen, this book could've been written by her... if it had been written 100 years ago and if Miss Austen would have had more mystery in her books.  I've tried other wannabe-Austen writers, but this is the only book that held my interest for more than a paragraph.

I love literary classics and, as you can tell by now, Jane Austen is one of my favorite classic writers along with Louisa May Alcott.  There are also hints of Alcott's influence in this book, too.  If you read it, you'll find the conclusion very reminiscent of an event in "Little Women."  Julie Klassen goes a step above Jane Austen, who didn't write faith into her books (with the exception of, perhaps, walks to church on Sundays).  "The Girl in the Gatehouse" is a story of God's love for us, redemption, and grace.  It's a timeless tale, and one we all need reminding of.

The heroine, Mariah Aubrey, is incredibly likable, witty, and sometimes feisty.  She's actually based on a minor Austen character of the same name.  The reader likes her almost instantly even though she has obvious, unlikeable flaws.  We see Mariah's character change and we see how God is working even her mistakes out for her own good and, as the pages turn, we see Him drawing her to Himself.  Oh, and the mystery!  This book is so wonderfully full of it and the way it all comes together in the end is both enchanting and exciting!

When it comes to fiction, I'm hesitant to review something by an author I haven't read before.  I have a high standard when it comes to books, especially fiction books. If a book doesn't speak to my heart on numerous levels, I feel it's a waste of time in a world that speeds by too quickly to be wasting that precious commodity!  Julie Klassen's "The Girl in the Gatehouse" is not only written exceedingly well, but it's a gem of a book.  My only reservation is that it's so hard to put down!  I've got a new favorite author and that hasn't happened since I discovered George MacDonald 2 years ago (his books are also the perfect combination of mystery, Jesus, romance, and history).

Now, if you head over to Amazon, you can read the first few pages of "The Girl in the Gatehouse" by using their "Look Inside" feature.

This book was provided to me by the wonderful people at Bethany House in exchange for a thoughtful and honest review!

A Collection of Wednesdays, A Passionate Read!

Each of us waits, like the sleeping Juliet, to be awakened by our Lover's compassionate kiss, to be awakened by a Lover who has already died and lives now to love us.  I am a believer in this Lover.  I too wait for Him to come and awaken me.  I believe in Him with passion... I decided... that I would be a person who lives with passion, and that I would allow God Himself to be the fuel of that passion.

So ends the first chapter of Miss Amy Gaither Hayes' new book, A Collection of Wednesdays: Creating a Whole from the Parts.  This book stirred my heart from the beginning.  Not only do its pages contain thought-provoking, heartfelt anecdotes but beautiful literary poems also grace those pages.

While working towards my Associates degree in Creative Writing, I took two poetry classes.  I'm not at all a poet, but my brother was and I sincerely appreciate great poetry.  If you aren't familiar with literary poetry you may have a hard time reading Miss Hayes'.  It doesn't rhyme, though it does have rhythm.  It's more like trains of thought.  I love her poetry; it spoke to my heart many times and flowed so well with the stories in her book.  The devotionals and memoirs in the book were also very eloquently written at times and often seemed a bit like poetry themselves.  The author writes about ordinary things but shows us how precious those everyday things really are.

As I've mentioned before, I'm not easily impressed by modern books.  I've read too many eloquent authors whose works have fed my soul and changed my life to be able to enjoy "just anything."  But within the first few pages of A Collection of Wednesdays, my eyes misted as my heart was touched by the words and by God.  Miss Hayes is a woman after my own heart and I hope to see more from her.  If you like to read memoirs, poetry, love Jesus (or want to), and long to be a more passionate woman in every aspect of your life, you won't be disappointed in this Collection.

I was blessed with this book by the wonderful people at Zondervan to facilitate a thoughtful and honest review.