Friday, February 24, 2017

The Jesus Storybook Bible Gift Edition By Sally Lloyd-Jones

As hard as it is to admit, babies grow up. In our house, we're always on the hunt for books that will educate, entertain, and challenge our little ones as they grow. While we love our  Words to Dream On by Diane Stortz, our oldest kiddo has reached the point where he's ready to listen to longer and more complex stories. 

This is where  The Jesus Storybook by Sally Lloyd-Jones come in. Now, I confess, I'm not sure what the regular edition features but I'll be focusing on the 10th anniversary one as that's what we have (and are loving).

First off, the construction. With longer stories this book is meant for slightly older kids (I'm guessing 4 would be a safe lower age) this book still has a solid cover to help protect it's softer paper pages when not being read. The built in bookmark is a wonderful feature as is the blue colouring to help this Mama figure out where  the book was moved last.

Second, the pictures  are perfect. The bright, action filled images are colourful and captivating meaning that although our younger son doesn't have the language skills to understand the story he is focused during story time, drawn in by the bright images he can process. I love book with awesome imagery having kids with speech delays and this one certainly delivers.

Third, the stories. Sally Lloyd Jones has done a wonderful job. The stories are 4-8 pages long making them a perfect length for helping young children stretch their listening skills. The added length also allows for more complexity in the stories. Lloyd Jones keeps each story with a definite "story book" feel but adding in more detail from original, formal translations letting parents ask more intentional questions and engage with their children on a different level than books aimed at the 2-5 age group. The stories cover a wide variety of both old and new testaments and I was  excited to see less covered stories (like the prophets) showing up between these covers.
4.5 out of 5 stars 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Simplest Way to Change the World by Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements.

Image result for The Simplest Way to Change the World by Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements.

You know an author is invested in their topic  when the subject matter  doesn't just leap from the pages  but is embodied and nuanced through every word. Willis and Clements keep their book open, conversational, and up-front with  their topic of choice, always sticking closely to their chosen topic of hospitality.

Overall, I found the book to be a challenging read personally and an enjoyable read as far as books go. The idea that anyone can change the world through being hospitable and building community in their everyday lives was both simple and yet rang clear with truth. In today's disconnected, social media driven society Willis and Clements argument really touches a chord.

The  book itself was well laid out covering a Biblical understanding and mandate for being hospitable, practical ways to become more hospitable (even for introverts like me), and providing in-depth questions for reflections. The book even includes a section for group study which, for a book about getting  people together, just makes logical sense.

The author's writing style has a relatable honesty that made the book a joy to read. I loved the personal stories of both their successes and failures on their journey to learning hospitality. As someone who struggles to make initial contact it was so helpful to see how others have learned (and that others need to learn,  not everyone gets it from the start).

Willis and Clements have given a voice to an area I've seen struggling within the church but was unable to place firmly enough to bring to words. I highly recommend to anyone interested in the church, ministry, community, or just wanted to connect.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

I received this book from Moody Publishing in exchange for my honest opinion, the views expressed are my own.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I love reading

I have a secret.

I love reading.

Okay, I'll confess, that may be the worst kept secret  of the  year. If you ever wandered into our  house you'd see books here and there and shelves that I swear groan under the weight of their load at times but reading is one of those things  that just energizes me and  passing along a love of the written word to our children is something my husband and I both hold dear.

As a college student I had a mind that wouldn't stop and a body that wouldn't start. Doctors eventually figured out that I possess a faulty gene or two resulting in Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. As a result, my body often can't keep up physically with my mind. Books were a life saver to me as they provided friends when I was sick, adventures when I couldn't get out of bed, knowledge when I was bored, and expression when I tried to write my own. 
Although my health has (mostly)stabilized, books have remained a constant in my world.

Throughout  the day, I round up my boys for cuddles and stories while  they're still young enough to want to snuggle with their mom and it's exciting to see the excitement in their eyes as they scan their rooms for where they  last left their favourites while snuggling up for the last story time, 
At least a few nights a week I can be found  in the late hours of night (or wee hours of the morning because sometimes you just can't help reading just one more chapter  - or three) snuggled up with my  softest blankies and pillows and a big mug of tea, diving into new concepts  or new worlds  hidden between the pages of the latest book to cross my nightstand.

After all, as C.S. Lewis once said 
"You can't get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me."
Wise words in my opinionšŸ˜‰  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

An Uncommon Courtship by Kristi Ann Hunter

An Uncommon Courtship

Lord Trent Hawthorne couldn’t be happier he is not the duke in the family. Free to manage his small estate and take his time discovering the life he wants to lead, he has grand plans of someday wooing and falling in love with the woman of his choice. When he finds himself honor bound to marry a woman he barely knows, his dream of a loving marriage like his parents’ seems lost forever
(excerpt from back of book)

No preamble, I adore Kristi Ann Hunter and her books with their beautiful characters, hilarious wit, and heart filled gospel oriented writing.  Her stories are the perfect pick-me-up for mid winter blues. I honestly have sore ribs from trying not to wake my husband up while I giggled at poor Trent's circumstances.

For fans of the Hawthorne House  series, book three sees our attentions turned towards the male members of the family for an interesting change of pace. I really appreciate the care Hunter takes to stay true to the world and characters she has previously established, making for a much richer narrative.

Compared to previous outings, I found An Uncommon Courtship to march to its own pace. While A Noble Masquerade  held its intrigue, and An Elegant Facade  held the dance of Georgina's season, I appreciated the fact that An Uncommon Courtship did not try to match or copy  the pace of its predecessors. With the focus of Adelaide and Trent both learning themselves as well as how to live as one, I found the slower pace added to the overall feelings this thrown together couple  must have felt allowing this reader to more easily enter into the story.

That isn't to say the book is without dimension. Adelaide and Trent's grief and pain over the situation were just as believable as the more humourous side  (Trent's reaction over their "first night" and subsequent talk with the guys had me lost in giggles,  sympathetic ones of course ;) )Because that's the strength of Hunter's writing, her characters leap off the page of their book with such life that they can't help but ebb and flow like real individuals.

For myself, An Uncommon Courtship provides the perfect book three of Hawthorne House  by giving readers a new aspect into the family and new explorations of matters of the heart, the nature of love, and the realities of marriage.

5 out of 5 stars

For those of you who are long standing or brand new fans of the Hawthorne House series, there's still good news to come. Griffith will be getting his own book to round out the Hawthorne House series, rumours place its release in fall of 2017! 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Mark of the King by Jocelyn King

The Mark of the King

After the death of her client, midwife Julianne Chevalier is imprisoned and branded, marking her as a criminal beyond redemption. Hoping to reunite with her brother, a soldier, she trades her life sentence for exile to the fledgling French colony of Louisiana. The price of her transport, however, is a forced marriage to a fellow convict.

New Orleans is nothing like Julianne expects. The settlement is steeped in mud and mosquitoes, and there is no news of her brother, Benjamin. When tragedy strikes, she turns to military officer Marc-Paul Girard for help, but does he know more about her brother than he will admit?
(excerpt from back of book)

The Mark of the King  is one of those books that stays with a reader. Although I was unfamiliar with Green prior to this, I was easily impressed at her writing style with its passionate inclusion of well researched history, its intriguing drama through realistic looks at early colony life, and her strength in writing out the turmoil of her characters lives.

I love it when an author's passion for her subject carries over to the reader and, I confess, this reader finished the book eager to learn more about a period and place in history of which I know shockingly little. Green's inclusion of historical events as well as her recommendations for further reading show her own investment into the stories which inspired the characters of Julianne and Marc-Paul.

I was also struck by her honesty when it came to writing pain. Green makes little attempt to gloss over the circumstances her characters would have encountered in early New Orleans including famine, disease, loss, attacks, weather events, and division within the settlements. As the readers main eyes and ears, Julianne seemed especially prone to the experiences of these losses which make them all the more relatable for readers.
That said, I found Julianne a sympathetic character at times but not relatable. With little exploration of the colony outside Julianne's, whose social circle was notably small due to events within the narrative, it felt like everything negative was being heaped upon her head while life continued on for the rest. While this would probably have been an accurate feeling should the character have been real it did get hard to read at times amidst the constant crisis.  (I should note I like my clean happy endings so my opinion is slightly biased ;) )

Even with this in mind The Mark of the King still provides an overall gripping novel that provides an interesting introduction to early French colonial life in Louisana.
4 out of 5 stars

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Good Good Father by Chris Tomlin and Pat Barrett

Some songs really click with their audience and in 2016, Chris Tomlin's "Good, Good Father" did just that reaching number 1 on the charts. However, the song spends the majority of the song affirming God's role as a good father rather than explaining the aspects that make this true.

In the book Good, Good Father Tomlin and Barrett  use dreamy illustrations, strong rhyming sentence structure, and a wonderfully age appropriate story to help teach our little ones what aspects truly make God a good father.

Overall, I was really pleased with the construction of the book. It's durable  board book pages are perfect for its intended audience to hold, turn, and interact with. The story itself is easy to  read with a strong rhyming structure that helps make children's stories so much easier to read (be it the first, third, or tenth time in a row). The narrative also was intentional in its drawing on a wide variety of examples to help children start to see just how vast the nature of this good father is.

My only concern is that some younger children may be  confused as to why their own fathers don't live up to the image formed by the book as it not explicitly stated that the book is talking about God and that no human father can be all these things all the time. My own son was a bit confused due to his age and comprehension.

4 out of 5 stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill

The lifeblood of the village of Ivy Hill is its coaching inn, The Bell. When the innkeeper dies suddenly, his genteel wife, Jane Bell, becomes the reluctant landlady. Jane has no idea how to manage a business, but with the town’s livelihood at stake and a large loan due, she must quickly find a way to save the inn.

Despite their strained relationship, Jane turns to her resentful mother-in-law, Thora, for help. Formerly mistress of The Bell, Thora is struggling to overcome her losses and find purpose for the future. As she works with Jane, two men from her past vie for her attention, but Thora has promised herself never to marry again. Will one of them convince her to embrace a second chance at love?
(excerpt from back of book)

My least favourite part of Julie Klassen's writing is that it took me so long to discover it. Hands down, Klassen has quickly risen to become my favourite historical fiction author and I've yet to be disappointed by her work. 

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill promised to be interesting from the get go as it marks Klassen's first foray into the realm of a serial. I was a little concerned that by spreading her scope and characters further she would lose some of the charm and satisfaction within her stories but, if book 1 is any indication, Klassen's writing is just as polished within a series as in her excellent stand alones.

With Ivy Hill, there was a definite sense of world building. 
While Jane was the central figure due to her role of import within the Inn, there was an underlying feel that her personal story would come into greater evidence  as the series progresses. 
That said, Thora's story line was a wonderful alternative to give readers a more rounded out tale and a strong plot to follow amidst all  the other set ups that will be further teased out in book 2 (and there are certainly a number to choose from).

I'm honestly excited to see where Klassen is going to take this series considering all the wonderful ways she's built the story up. The teasings of character like Locke, Rachel, Sir Timothy, Drake, and Mercy provided a wonderful crew that feel like they need an entire village (and series) to contain them.  While Klassen was careful not to overstep a book, she was equally careful not to cripple a character's personality and interest in favour of separating story.  

The central story lines of this particular book revolving around the Inn, Jane's widowhood, and Thora were all satisfyingly well thought out and I adore how Klassen captures the essence of her era capturing issues that would have faced the characters personally and culturally. 

5 out of 5 stars (and a reader eager  for book 2!)

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."