Thursday, December 15, 2016

Without Rival by Lisa Bevere

Without Rival

There is a reason we look at others as rivals and limit ourselves to comparison and competition. We have an enemy assaulting our mind, will, and emotions in the hope that we’ll turn on ourselves and each other. It’s a cycle that isolates us from intimate connections, creates confusion about our identity, and limits our purpose.

In Without Rival, bestselling author Lisa Bevere shares how a revelation of God’s love breaks these limits. You’ll learn how to stop seeing others as rivals and make the deep connections with your Creator you long for–connections that hold the promise of true identity and intimacy.

(excerpt from back of book)

Without Rival is my first introduction to Lisa's work and it was certainly an introduction. Tackling the topic of rivalry is not an easy one but Lisa presents a well rounded approach to the topic that feels full of openness and common sense wisdom. Lisa's personality seemed to leap out off the pages,  allowing me, a relative newbie to her work, to more easily enter her work and assisted me in looking through her eyes. Lisa's passion for women and their ability to live vibrantly within God's calling on their life shows on each page. 

I personally enjoyed the variety of ways  and the thoroughness which Lisa brought to her book. Whether it was looking at gender issues, self image, our understanding of God, or even the value of rivalry Lisa laid out intriguing lessons and arguments regarding her views on the role  these aspects should vs. how they do play out in everyday life. Her layout, especially in the first half of the book was also helpful as the  chapters felt more connected and strengthened by one another.

While there are  areas where are theology diverges(mostly in the final chapters), Without Rival sticks close to scripture for much  of its inspiration allowing the majority of the book to appeal beyond denomination preference.

4 out of 5 stars

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

God Made You Nose to Toes by Leslie Parrott

Help little ones understand that God created each part of their bodies so they can enjoy life and everything in it. In this delightful padded cover board book by well-known author and family therapist Leslie Parrott, children can follow along with Toucan––with a great big nose––as he helps them learn God loves each one of them completely.
(excerpt from back of book)

Alright, after lots of heavy reading it's so refreshing to jump back into children's books again and refreshing definitely describes this new offering from author Leslie Parrott.
I adore this book and know my kids will too.

The book itself is a solid board book construction which is perfect for any family with a chewy toddler (please tell me the eating books stage is quick, right?)and filled to the brim with beautifully coloured and vibrant images that are sure to drawn the attention of any little one.

The story itself was wonderful to read out loud with an easy rhyme following a young boy and his toucan friend as they explore their senses and their body from "nose to toes". I really enjoyed how the format is familiar (I've lost count how many times 'head, shoulders, knees, and toes gets sung in a day) but takes it a step further by  connecting these parts with their purpose and the ultimate message that they are good gifts from God.

As  a mom to two littles, I can easily see this book holding their interest until they enter the school system if not a little further.

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, December 10, 2016

Out of the Spin Cycle by Jen Hatmaker

Out of the Spin Cycle

Alright, first things first, this blog is primarily focus on reviewing books and that's just what we're going to do.

Out of the Spin Cycle is a re-release, first published in 2010, Jen's presents 40 easy to read devotionals aimed at helping moms find peace in the midst of the chaos that life with children can be. Each chapter starts of with an analogy or story, moves  into a brief lesson, asks 1-2 questions, and ends with a recommended response.  The format is quick, easy, and at times surprisingly thought provoking. 

As a  former native speaker of sarcasm, there were times when I felt a little uncomfortable with the tone of Jen's stories. however, I was able to temper this by noting Jen's own honesty about her  weakness for sarcasm and her gratefulness for her editors  keeping her accountable in this area. It was also reassuring  to  realize that the sarcasm never traveled beyond the analogy without a clear noting of it's sarcastic undertones. When it came to teaching and scripture Jen was all business.

This really shows in the quality of the  teaching. I so wish personal timelines had allowed me to read a chapter a day to get the full effect of this book but time wasn't exactly on my side for that. However, as I read through I was struck by Jen's passion for women, especially  moms, who  are tired/stressed/and looking for Jesus. 

4 out of 5 stars
"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Prayer Saturated Family by Cheryl Sacks

Image result for The Prayer Saturated Family by Cheryl Sacks

With a fresh, flexible, real-world approach, bestselling author Cheryl Sacks shows how you can integrate prayer into your daily family life, including how to:
· Get everyone on board and involved
· Experience a fresh sense of God’s promise and purpose for your family
· Overcome spiritual opposition coming against your household
· Shift the spiritual atmosphere in your home to one of greater peace and joy
· Make an investment in your children’s faith that will last a lifetime
(Excerpt from back of book)

Prayer is one of those weird topics within the church. It's foundational, everyone has heard of it, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of teaching on the topic in my experience and most people are afraid to ask questions. This is why I love books like this. Cheryl takes readers through different styles of prayer, ways to incorporate prayer into families at all stages of life, and easy to follow "how-to's" she has encountered over her own life  and research.

I really appreciated the care Cheryl takes to go through the highs and lows of families in each of their  glorious stages from no children to empty nesters and everywhere in between. The  31  day guide at the end of the book gives a wide variety of topics and suggestions to help families practically expand their own understanding of prayer and how to become more intentional about incorporating prayer into areas that may not be naturally apparent in our busy lives.
As I said, I love useful  how-to's  and this book provides  them :)

On the flip side, I would recommend this for people who have been in the church for  some  time  and already possess a more balanced view on the role of prayer for one main reason. Cheryl's writing, at times, slips into a very "health & wealth"/  "name it &claim it" mentality that  can be dangerous. Without acknowledging that, sometimes, even prayers for what we perceive to be good things can receive an answer of no or not yet, we run the risk of turning prayer into a one way request line for a Santa Claus God. I think she  tempered this somewhat with her incorporation of worship but for someone new to faith an explicit statement that prayers are not wishes and sometimes the answer isn't what we want would have been nice to see stately more strongly and clearly.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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

Monday, November 7, 2016

Waves of Mercy by Lynn Austin

Waves of Mercy

Chicago socialite Anna Nicholson retreats to the Hotel Ottawa in Holland, Michigan, after breaking her engagement with her wealthy fiancé. Filled with questions about her newfound faith and troubled by a recurring nightmare, Anna finds solace in Derk Vander Veen, a seasonal hotel worker who plans to go into the ministry.
Prompted by a request from her son, Geesje de Jonge begins to sift through memories of emigrating from the Netherlands almost fifty years ago. As she writes them down for the Semi-Centennial anniversary of the town’s settlement, her story takes on a life of its own as she honestly and painfully recalls her regrets, doubts, hardships, and joys. Her story captivates Derk, who sees similarities between Geesje and Anna, and wishes to bring the two together.
(excerpt from back of book)

Waves of  Mercy is two books for  the price of one. Balancing between the story of Anna, Geesje, and Geesje youth, Lynn Austin artfully weaves a world where  characters are unafraid to address real fears and doubts while experiencing believable highs and lows within life. I will admit it took me  a few chapters  to adjust to the shifts between Anna, Geesje, and Geesje's teenage years. As a reader who gets very immersed in her books  (hence the many late nights trying to read just a few more minutes) the  shifts in time periods and characters  initially jarred me out of the  story. However, as the book progressed and I became more involved  (specifically with  Geesje's story) I was eventually able to make the first person shifts without loosing that encompassing effect.

As with any good story,  I  quickly found myself latching onto a character - in this case Geesje. While I struggled to find  a connection with Anna until the last pages of  the  book Geesje leapt off  the  pages with  a depth that's hard to find. I loved the dimension Lynn was able to work into her character and the honesty with which she addressed Geesje's doubts and struggles as her  faith collided  with life events. 

While I quickly guessed Anna's story line, Geesje's story line kept me guessing throughout, not so much in plot points but in her reactions  and responses to those events. Austin was skillful in her ability to lead readers  through events that, while greatly  removed through time, still felt real, relatable, and successfully invites readers to enter into the story.  Love is such a powerful connector but I loved  how Austin does not rely on the traditional love story to carry Geesje along. I honestly cried along with Geesje as she  made her decisions time and time again and loved the portrayal of relationship that involved  such commitment, decision, and sacrifice.

This was a perfect way to jump in Lynn Austin's writing and would make a perfect Christmas gift for any lover of historical  fiction or true love stories on  your list.

4 out of 5 stars

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Discipline that Connects with your Child's Heart by Jim & Lynne Jackson

Discipline That Connects With Your Child's Heart

Jim and Lynne Jackson, founders of Connected Families, teach four powerful principles for discipline that shape both behavior and your kids’ hearts. You’ll learn to communicate–even when your kids are at their worst–that they are safe with you, loved no matter what, capable of wise choices, and responsible to make right the things they’ve made wrong. As you impart these messages, you’ll create strong relationships, build lasting wisdom and character, and bring God’s grace to life in your home!
(excerpt from back of book)

Jim and Lynne's book is written by parents, for parents. Filled to the brim with case studies, real life (and in some cases personal) stories of their practices and theories in real family situation, the Jackson's heart for families is evident on every page.
Mindful of this, the authors really strive to make their work accessible to the families that need it. The case studies often have more than 1 case per point which does add to the page count (just over 300) but also allows for more points of connectivity with readers.

The Jackson's style is very straightforward. Presenting their theory: Foundation -"You are Safe with me", Connect "You are Loved no matter what", Coach  - "You are called and capable", and Correct  - " You are responsible for your actions" as a pyramid allows them to constantly refer back to the interconnection and necessity of a strong foundation within their model. I appreciated how easily  the lines were drawn between the later steps with having successfully established the prior and the permission or even direction to go back and see how steps apply in the overarching family as well as in individual situations. Additionally, while the book is obviously aimed at raising children I felt one of the book's great strengths was how they addressed parental reactions and behaviours  using their modeling to affect change. So many parenting books seem to get lost in "changing children" and not looking at the parents themselves and let's face it no matter how hard we try the only personal we can truly change is ourselves.

While the book is most definitely written for parents I could easily see how some may feel Discipline That Connects With Your Child's Heart reads more as a textbook than some of the  other parenting books currently on the market. That  said, Jim and Lynne  open, honest, and heartfelt text easily makes up for the extra challenge in reading level  and the walk through appendices provide a great starting point for parents who may feel overwhelmed and unsure how to begin applying what they've just learned.

4 out of 5 stars

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Where Two Hearts Meet by Liz Johnson


Liz Johnson is not a writer. She is a world builder inviting readers into the lives and journeys of her characters with each flip of the page. 

I, for one, am so excited to have had the chance to dive back into the world of Rose's Red  Door Inn.
Alright, I may be biased but Liz's first foray into this series was a definite highlight in my reading calendar only marred by a lack of Caden (which I understood as she wasn't the center focus)  so I was delighted to hear Caden would be front and center for book two and neither Caden nor Liz disappoints!

Although Caden has grown since book 1 she is  still sweet, lovable Caden. Always ready to help a neighbour, still deeply in love with the wonders of her island, still a bit quirky and definitely still her sweet insecure self - Caden sort of reminds me of a more insecure Canadian Sookie (yes I may have finally started watching my tv list from a  decade ago, I fall a little behind on tv) Though Caden feels like the underdog in her town she is most definitely the girl I would hope to make friends with if I stopped by North Rustico.

On the other hand, Adam Jacobs is a man with a past, one that he'd rather forget. I loved the contrast between these two characters and the way Liz allowed them to bring healing to each other. I found Adam's guilt based story line to be a fascinating choice for the character  and one that  worked well. The journey from his parents to the hut overseas was expertly reveled throughout the books thanks in part to secondary character Levi (honestly I hope Levi and Esther appear  later in the series, I adored that  couple). having spent some time in the counselling world his grief and pain seemed so believable and again either speaks to Liz's research, experience, talent, or all three. 

I also appreciated the reality of Adam and Caden's relationship. It wasn't instantaneous, in fact, Caden's annoyance at the invasions of her kitchen almost  got in me in trouble as I came this close to waking the kiddo's with my giggling. I also appreciated  the struggles they had to overcome due to their own assumings and hidden pasts. I felt like this just added another layer of realism  and helped breathe life into their characters. I can't stand mushy romances with no struggle there's no reality to help anchor the escape. Liz's world is so real  you can almost  smell Caden's cinnamon buns.

5  out  of 5 stars

I received this book as part of the Revell Reads book tour in exchange for my honest opinion.

Riley Unlikely by Riley Banks Snyder

Take one teenage girl, add a dream to go to Africa, stir in a lot of faith, and what do you get?
Riley Unlikely.

Riley Unlikely  is  the story of Riley Banks Snyder teenage founder of Generation Next and teenage missionary who has a heart for the children of Africa and a passion for partnering with them receive to receive the education and medical care they deserve.

I loved  Riley's down to earth style and the honest, conversational way she chronicled her own journey from a young, enthusiastic though naive teen girl  to a compassionate and talented young woman with a heart to use her talents and gifts to partner with the children of Eastern Africa. I found her writing style engaging and filled with personality. While Riley may mention her shyness and possibly introverted nature throughout the book, like so many others she shines through on the pages inviting readers to listen, learn, and find their own passion. 

I also appreciated Riley's honesty. The realities of culture shock, the overwhelming feelings when faced with need, the game changing diagnosis, and all the other shifts in plans. Although Riley comes through as a seemingly upbeat young lady she is also open and real about the struggles she has faced on this journey and the way that played out in her relationships and faith. I felt this was so important as young readers (or older readers who love a good biography) encounter those same ups and downs and the books which simply gloss over the hard give no aid or encouragement when struggle inevitably happens.

I also enjoyed that Riley included pictures, driving home the people  and the words of her story because even in the midst of the ups and downs Riley so openly describes the pictures show a young woman exuding joy while working alongside the  people who have so firmly grabbed a space in her heart.

I really did enjoy the book,  between Riley's writing, the wonderful example of faith, and the powerful message of what anyone  (even a shy, young teenager) can do when they follow their call instead of the  crowd combines for a memorable book.

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.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Mile Wide Trading A Shallow Religion For A Deeper Faith By Brandon Hatmaker

As a host and guest judge for HGTV and DIY Network (My Big Family Renovation, Brother v.s. Brother, Tiny House Arrest), Brandon Hatmaker understands what it takes to rehab a home. But after twenty-plus years of working with the local church (and as husband to bestselling author Jen Hatmaker), he has an even greater understanding of what it takes to rehab an everyday faith. In A Mile Wide, he helps readers see more clearly how the gospel works in us and eventually through us to transform an anemic spiritual life into a deeper, fuller, and more effective faith.

Offering fresh perspective on eight essentials of Christianity—the gospel, identity, scripture, discipleship, kingdom, mission, community, and justice—Hatmaker provides biblical insight and practical applications that tap into the richer life Christ promised his people, individually and as a community. God wants more than simply to save us; he’s also determined to transform us, restore us, and use us to reveal the coming of his kingdom right here, right now.
(excerpt from back of book)

Confession time! I totally and completely only noticed this book due to the HGTV  in the title. However, even though my motives for choosing this book were a little hazy and magpieish, Brandon Hatmaker's A Mile Wide stands to be one of the most impacting and powerful books of 2016 for this reader.

Brandon's style is honest, straightforward, and backed with scripture first then practical experience. His story-telling style with the openness he so easily displays when talking  about his love of people digging in deep to community, and areas he's personally wrestled with  on his own journey make this book engaging. I love how this book takes readers through new perspectives and, I think, that's something important to Brandon. Throughout the book assumptions are being challenged, mainly through stories be they of soccer skills, homeless encounters, or his children's reactions to television. Each story has a purpose and a lesson to share. 

Brandon openly acknowledges some readers may have issue with his views due to the tension that exists in some congregations regarding social justice vs. evangelism. I loved how Brandon built a solid foundation regarding faith in general before launching into this particularly outworking allowing it to become a natural next step and one that was defined by scripture rather than just defended.  

I would highly recommend this book 5 out 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, October 8, 2016

A Lady Unrivaled by Roaeanna M. White

A Lady Unrivaled

Lady Ella Myerston can always find a reason to smile--even if it's just in hope that tomorrow will be better than today. All her life everyone has tried to protect her from the realities of the world, but Ella knows very well how the dangerous Fire Eyes diamonds have haunted her brother and their friends, and she won't wait for peril to strike again. She intends to take action . . . and if that happens to involve an adventurous trip to the Cotswolds, then so much the better.

Lord James Cayton has already broken two hearts, including that of his first wife, who died before he could convince himself to love her. Now he's determined to live a better life . . . but that proves complicated when old acquaintances pull Cayton into their desperate attempt to seize the jewels. He does his best to remove the intriguing Lady Ella from danger, but the stubborn girl won't budge. How else can he redeem himself, though, but by saving her--and his daughter--from those intent on destroying them all?

(excerpt from back of book)

So once again I've found myself entering a trilogy as it's reaching its final act. Unlike other books, however,  this time I'm highly recommending finding the first  two books and reading them prior to starting the wonder that is  A Lady Unrivaled. Roseanna M White is a gifted author, her worlds are crafted with depth and her characters have the nuances and spark that make them leap off the page. T

That said, in my opinion, one of White's great strengths is her ability to write an intriguing plot. A Lady Unrivaled  takes readers on twists and turns from love and life to murder and intrigue and that's why I highly recommend finding The Lost Heiress and The Reluctant Duchess. White's plot builds upon itself, referencing back and recalling that  which has come before; it makes a more interesting, depth-filled story but also one which could leave readers a tad confused if the jump into the middle.

Ella and Cayton's interactions are a definite book highlight. Their actions are witty, caring, and break away from some of the usual standards seen in this genre (a refreshing change just like their  first kiss, what a moment!).I loved the balance between them and how White wasn't afraid to have both of her main characters asking difficult questions when it came to faith and life. Faith plays a key role in White's story and I'm guessing this is one  of the areas I was unable to fully grasp the importance of due  to missing the first two books. 

Another wonderful point of this work was the contrast of the high English  society (now so much more familiar thanks to Downton Abbey) and the many strong female roles White's including in this work. With the Duchess and Ella representing the aristocracy and Kira and Felicity representing the working class, the book is filled with moments of strength both traditional and unexpected. 

Grounding all of these elements together is the curse of the fire  eyes diamonds. Honestly,  this is  was a well thought out story line and was the  source of most of the intrigue and danger, driving the  story forward and separating it from other historical fiction which seem to rely more on the romance for forward motion. I loved the mystery (and stayed up far too late waiting on the resolution) but found myself  laughing at the perfection of how White  chose  to wrap up  such a central plot. Given Ella's cheerful and delighted  personality I couldn't have dreamed a better ending to such a dire circumstance.

5 out of 5 stars.

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

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise

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For most people who have musical gifts, visited sporadically, or participated regularly in the evangelical church since the turn of the millennium the name Hillsong  is one that  has become quickly familiar as  a leading provider of worship materials and music.

With their rock star quality and trailblazing position, admirers and protesters equally acknowledge the effect Hillsong has had on the church's expression of worship and use of music over the last decade and a half. Let Hope Rise follows Hillsong  United- giving them a platform to express their views on faith, social justice, brokenness and a variety of topics within the context of normal people caught up in an extraordinary scale of events.

Watching the film feels like sitting half way between a Hillsong blu-ray and a documentary. With that  in mind, I often felt like the film was produced in response to those  critics and protesters who dog  Hillsong's movement rather than a simple behind the scenes look (something I felt came across much more naturally when Switchfoot released there documentary a few years  ago). 
As a result, different sections of the film feel specifically crafted to address how  leaders attempt to find balance between a venue that  can very easily slip into a performance based around  fame and money and their responsibility to be mindful of those they are supposed to be serving through their musical gifts. This was a recurring theme throughout the film and in  many ways almost served as  a thesis for the film.

With a few momentary exceptions the leaders came across as genuine. 
The guys on the bus made me roll my eyes  as I  remembered the antics I encountered as a sound gal for different bands over the years (that was  way too familiar, to be honest, I'm guessing it's more of a band thing) and to see the families coming together after tour felt very honest as the level of self-reflection and standards to which the band holds themselves too really came across during these family segments. I'm going to take a  wild guess and say that a few perfectionists may find a lot to relate too with those portions. The  band also spoke of their work with Compassion International which came as a  surprise to me though I was glad to see such an amazing organization getting a shout out. It was really encouraging to see the band members out on the streets getting the info themselves and I know from friends that Compassion is very thorough.

The editing of the film was very intentional with the interview segments feeling very produced, almost to the point of overproduction. That said, I also felt this issue was balanced out, at least in part, by the concert sections which through timing, follow along lyrics, and a polished presentation will allow viewers to become immersed in those moments. 
The one segment which used viewer compilations as a music video was brilliant and the little  girl on the piano totally  stole the show for me (you have to keep your eyes open as it's a  short clip but that  girl has spunk!) 

As someone more familiar with the music and the controversy behind the band, Let Hope Rise served as a new voice and insight into the group which has had such major influence into the lives of so many. I found it to be well produced, with high quality sound and video  (not much of a surprise but still good to see), and answered many questions. I do wish that the interview segments had come across as less scripted as that did make me question the sincerity at times.

3.5 stars out of 5. 

"Movie has been provided courtesy of Pure Flix Entertainment and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Monday, October 3, 2016

Everything Is Possible: Finding the Faith and Courage to Follow Your Dreams by Jen Bricker

Everything is Possible

When Jen Bricker was born without legs, her shocked biological parents were uncertain they could care for her and gave her up for adoption. In her loving adoptive home, there was just one simple rule: “Never say ‘can’t.'” And pretty soon there was nothing this small but mighty powerhouse set her sights on that she couldn’t conquer, including roller-skating, volleyball, power tumbling, and spinning from silk fabric thirty feet in the air.

Everything Is Possible is her incredible story–a story of God working out his plan for her life frombefore day one. Let Jen show you what you can accomplish when you remove the words coincidence and can’t from your vocabulary.
(excerpt from back of book)

Jen's personality shines through the pages as she lays out her life thus far. In fact, most of her  book reads more as a conversation - bubbly, reflective, and sometimes a bit rambling. 

Everything is Possible covers a wide  variety of topics from adoption and finding one's birth family (this was the reason I was familiar with the author it is quite the story), overcoming adversity, and the transitions which accompany every teen moving into adulthood. Jen's story reads like a tv movie  between her adventures in gymnastics to working at Disney and eventually joining Britney Spears Circus tour. Supported by her adoptive and biological family, Jen steadily reads as a  strong female role model who incorporates faith and optimism into every moment of her life. 
At times I felt a bit conflicted regarding the tone of the book. The author mentions some serious topics but rarely, if ever, loses her optimistic, bubbly tone. This could very well be her personality as it's hard to tell from a biography but, at times, it also felt as if those harder moments weren't given the gravity they  deserved.

I felt this book would be best received by those who enjoy biographies, stories of people overcoming  the odds,  and pre-teen/teen girls who are trying to find their own direction in life.
3.5 out of 5  stars

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

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Devoted by Suzanne Woods Fisher


Bright, curious, and restless, Ruthie Stoltzfus loves her family but is stuck in a sea of indecision about her future: Should she stay Amish? Or should she leave? She’s done all she can to prepare to go–passed the GED, saved her money–but she can’t quite set her journey into motion.

Patrick Kelly is a young man on a journey of his own. He’s come to Stoney Ridge to convert to the Amish and has given himself thirty days to learn the language, drive a buggy, and adapt to “everything Plain.” Time, to Patrick, is of the essence. Every moment is to be cherished, especially the hours he spends with Ruthie, his Penn Dutch tutor.

Ruthie’s next-door neighbor and cunning ex-boyfriend, Luke Schrock, is drawn to trouble like a moth to a flame. Rebellious, headstrong, defiant, Luke will do anything to win Ruthie back–anything–and Patrick Kelly is getting in his way.
(excerpt from back of book)

It's official. While I may not be a fan of Amish fiction as a genre, I am an enormous fan of Suzanne Woods Fisher! 
Honestly, her series The Bishop's Family  has completely won me over between the solid and endearing characters, the plot line with teachable moments that make me feel as though I'm at the Stoltzfus table rather than being preached at, and the absolutely wonderful Stoney Creek providing the perfect setting.

One of Fisher's strengths is her characters. I jumped for joy when I realized that, unlike it's predecessors, The Devoted showed a heavier emphasis on Ruthie and Jesse.  Jesse has been my series underdog and I adore watching his growth as he navigated life with apprentices and finally addressed his situation with Mim. Ruthie also came  into her own in this book, I really appreciated th honest wrestling Ruthie undergoes when she considers her future,  Fisher may have her family written firmly within the Amish genre but Ruthie's struggle to find her place is one anyone who's wrestled with where their life is going can relate with.  
While the 2 year gap in plot between The Quieting  and The Devoted was jarring at first it really did make good sense story wise as the younger siblings had to develop properly before they could take center stage and the quick summery and reminiscing was more than enough to make up the gap.

Once again I found myself caught up in Fisher's story line. This is another one of her strengths and one that I feel more secure in pointing out as I see the story unfolding throughout the series and not just within a self contained novel. I love how Fisher's stories don't feel like a story and a sermon, While she incorporates so many teachable moments, I often felt like a friend or family member sitting around the table and joining in on one of David's discussions. I love that! I've read so many stories where the flow and immersion into a story are disrupted in order to add a sermon or some sort of biblical teaching, Fisher's ability to weave these together so beautifully just adds to the experience. In fact, this entire book was a beautiful example of weaving and balance, Between Ruthie considering of life outside and Patrick's exploration of Amish life, Dok's life  in and out of Stoney Ridge, and David's tension over community life  there was more than enough to keep this reader hooked until well after midnight.

If anyone's looking for a great autumn read or maybe getting a jump start on Christmas shopping. The Bishop's Family  is a solid series full of characters who leap off the page as they wrestle with life in a way that will be identifiable to so many.
4 out of 5 stars

I received this book as part of the Revell Reads book tour in exchange for my honest opinion."

Friday, September 23, 2016

One Small Donkey by Dandi Daisy Mackall Illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens

Christmas stories come in many forms. 
Some follow Mary and Joseph, others look through the eyes of a  human storyteller, while still others explore the animals point of view. 

In One Small Donkey, Dandi Mackall chooses a  humble donkey to be her storyteller. 
I really enjoyed the narrative itself. The nativity story was well portrayed while still weaving in an equally strong message regarding the importance of each person (or in this case, donkey) in God's greater story. 
The story itself would be easily welcomed by kids ages 4-8.

Readers may find (and it was my only complaint) that the actual flow of the story feels choppy and jarring, especially when read aloud. 
While the content is great (and  even taught me something through some quick google confirmation, who knew it snowed in Israel? I definitely need to brush up on my geography) the rhyme and meter fell short. 

On the flip side, the artwork in  this book is some of the most stunning I've seen in a children's book this year. In fact, I found myself needing to reread the story after  I realized  I had become so engrossed in the pictures I had missed  parts of the  narrative.  This artwork is a huge bonus for a family like ours as our pre-verbal kidlet is as equally drawn into the story as his older sibling.

While the rhyme and flow may be a deterrent for some, One Small Donkey still provides a solid Christmas story with  illustrations that go above and beyond in their beauty and attention to details.
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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Heart Most Certain by Melissa Jaegars

A Heart Most Certain

Lydia King knows what it's like to be in need, so she joins the Teaville Moral Society hoping to help the town's poor. But with her father's debts increasing by the day and her mother growing sicker by the week, she wonders how long it will be until she ends up in the poorhouse herself. Her best chance at a financially secure future is to impress the politician courting her, and it certainly doesn't hurt that his mother is the moral society's president. Lydia's first task as a moral society member--to obtain a donation from Nicholas Lowe, the wealthiest man in town--seems easy . . . until the man flat-out refuses.

Despite appearances, Nicholas wants to help others but prefers to do it his own way, keeping his charity private. When Lydia proves persistent, they agree to a bargain, though Nicholas has a few surprises up his sleeve. Neither foresees the harrowing complications that will arise from working together, and when town secrets are brought to light, this unlikely pair must decide where their beliefs--and hearts--truly align.
(excerpt from back of book)

Melissa Jagears is one of those writers I'm beginning to rely on. If  I'm looking for a solid read, enjoyable character growth, and a well-thought out setting I know Melissa will deliver.

I was surprised to find so many serious topics wrapped up in a fascinating love story (honestly, the literary nerd in me giggled with glee over Lydia's comparisons between her own life and  one of her favourite reads Pride and Prejudice). I love the diversity and breadth of topics in this novel. Larger themes of redemption, hypocrisy, self sacrifice, and the church find life with the comings and goings of Teaville, If book 1 is any indication this series is going to be a  "stay up 'til it's done" type  of series.

Jagears characters  are so real I found myself wishing for the opportunity
to chat about books with Lydia, give the pastor's wife a hug, and cry over the three sisters who impacted each of the few pages they were featured on. Actually, to be honest, when I look back on this novel it isn't Lydia or  Nicholas  that will jump out, it's the kids. Jagears hits upon historical events that have present day significance with a skill and truthfulness that is hard to deny. Part of Jagears appeal is her willingness to write harder scenes that other authors may shy away from in the genre. Sadie's introduction and the eldest sisters wrestling with Lowe's offers shone light onto the very tip of a heartbreaking and global issue.

My only concern with the book was the epilogue. Although this is usually my favourite part due to story lines wrapping up and the satisfaction of a story well lived, I had some concerns about the characters. Lydia undergoes a noticeable and not overly enjoyable personality change for this reader. Now, I'll give some wiggle  room here, sometimes personalities can undergo changes during different periods of life and Lydia's life had certainly undergone some changes. I'll reserve judgment to see whether Lydia regains her passion in the next installment.
I also had a few questions over the introduction of characters in the epilogue. I'm going to take a  guess they'll feature more heavily in the sequel but it did give the book more of an incomplete feel than the book felt like it was going to have.

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

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Itsy Bitsy Christmas by Max Lucado Illustrated by Bruno Merz

Do you ever feel like you are too small or too ordinary? This is just how Itsy and Bitsy feel. When these two charming little mice hear that a King is coming to Bethlehem, they set off with great enthusiasm to find Him. Along the way, they are met with discouraging words telling them they are too little and unimportant for any king. Just when Itsy and Bitsy begin to believe they really aren't big enough for the new King, they learn that Christ the King has indeed come for everyone.

Crafted by bestselling author and master storyteller Max Lucado, Itsy Bitsy Christmas helps children understand God's great love and know that He sent His Son for all of us--little or big, young or old.

My first introduction to Max Lucado was through his book You are Special. Though a teenager  at the time, I was thoroughly enchanted and, thanks to those awkward teen  years, deeply touched by the simple yet true message. 

Lucado continues his theme of simple and true messages in his latest children's offering Itsy Bitsy Christmas   which is sure to become a Christmas favourite in our house due to a few factors.

First the illustrations. Courtesy of Bruno Merz the illustrations are a wonderful blend of soft, appealing colours which delight my youngest while still maintaining  enough detail and variety to capture my rambunctious older boy. Board books can definitely find it challenging to strike a balance that will appeal to different ages throughout the family but  Merz tackled this with skill.

Another feature I enjoyed with this book was it's construction. Usually with a board book readers  find themselves sacrificing quality or quantity of story.  Board books usually aim for lower word count due to their audience's estimated age. However, Itsy Bitsy Christmas is a full length story book. As a mom to two boys (did I mention they might be rambunctious?) It's  nice to know that my children can still pile up for  story time without  the book becoming an unintentional casualty.

Finally, the story was cute. The message was easy to understand and easy  showed the story's tagline of no one being "too little for God's love," Putting the story's focus on animals is certainly  not a new angle but it is one that is reused because it is so easy for children to identify, empathize, and attach too. Lucado  may use an old plot device to move his story along but the result leans more towards the timeless than the time  worn.

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.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Artisan's Wife by Judith Miller

The Artisan's Wife

Ainslee McKay's world is upended when her twin sister secretly elopes and leaves Ainslee alone to move to Weston, West Virginia, to fulfill their obligation at the McKay family's new tile works. While her brother, Ewan, agrees to travel with her and help her learn the ropes, she still intends to sell this business she no longer wants if a buyer can be found. 

When the talented Levi Judson arrives to show Ainslee his designs for new tiles, she's impressed at his skill and passion for the business but feels she must keep her true plans for the business a secret from him. And though Levi hopes for a long, successful career at McKay Tile Works, he's hiding his true reason for coming to Weston. Can the growing feelings between them survive if the truth comes to light--or is a future together as untenable as the future of the tile works itself?
(Excerpt from back of book)

Almost two years ago I had the chance to dive into Judith Miller's Refined by Love trilogy. now with The Artisan's Wife the journey has come full circle  and the  wonderful twins are finally getting center stage!

First things first. I skipped  book two The Potter's Lady. I'm not exactly sure how that happened but with Miller's attention to plot continuation readers  will find far more enjoyment if they take the time to  read the series in order.  Not that this is a hardship. Miller's writing style and quality of detail is just as strong in the final pages of this trilogy as it was in the first. 
I loved getting swept away in her nods to the era. Unlike many authors these days, Miller also takes the time to briefly explain to authors which key elements were nods to real life, which were fictional,  and where  the lines were drawn. 

As far as characters go Ainslee was one of my few  complaints about  The Brickmaker's  Bride due to her under use. I was thoroughly pleased to see her  finally take center stage  and the depth of her character  was wonderful in all its smart, stubborn, and wrestling spirit. Levi was also fairly well rounded although I've always felt Miller's female characters have a more natural feel and flow to them.

Given the fact that this was our third outing with the McKay family I was curious how Miller  was going to bring a new spin on this novel while still wrapping up the loose threads from Brickmaker's Bride. I absolutely loved Miller's look at the asylum's of the era. Her explorations of prejudice through Laura (a character already familiar), the reasons behind committals, the hints towards future issues was a wonderful  serious direction to balance out a very sweet romance/coming of age for Ainslee.

This was  a wonderful way to wrap up 2 years with the McKay's and a solid read for fans of the genre.

4 out of 5 stars.

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

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A Sunday Horse

A Sunday Horse
After a near-fatal accident on a horse the experts thought was nothing special, a determined rider from the wrong side of the tracks defies all the odds to pursue her dreams of winning a national jumping championship. Starring William Shatner, Nikki Reed, and Linda Hamilton.

The  first 10 minutes of A Sunday Horse did not fill me with reassurance. Nikki Reed's acting felt forced, the  language was rougher than I'd like for a family movie, and the chemistry wasn't there but that tug that seems to accompany so many young girls and the young of heart when it comes to horses and some absolutely gorgeous scenery encouraged me to persevere. 

I had done a little research before watching  and knew the movie was (very) loosely based on the story of Debi Walden Connor and the true influences also drew me in.

As the movie progressed the  quality  began to improve. While I cringed at Debi's talk with her pastor, Debi's encounter with The Evangelist was a turning point for the character and the movie. Reed's character became so much more real as she dropped the issues of  her past and began finding herself and chasing her  dream. I do love a good underdog (underhorse?) story and A Sunday Horse provides more than a few to chose from.

The story line itself lends itself to some wonderful family chats after watching as issues of class, race, and family estrangement are all encountered by Debi and those closest to her on the path to her championship competition. While the movie isn't able to explore the issues in full depth and resolution due to time (the father's resolution was most likely much longer in real life but Debi is the movie's  focus) there is more than enough to thoughtfully address some big issues with elementary aged kids within the movie's world. 

There  is some language and the main character is seen smoking a joint at work in the early minutes of the movie but that does quickly change.

A Sunday Horse  is  a film filled with heart and a clear message sharing the  value of perseverance when facing challenges and chasing your dreams.

 4 out of 5 stars

Movie has been provided courtesy of Mongrel Canada and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc

Friday, August 26, 2016

Hope Prevails by Dr. Michelle Bengtson

Cover Art

As a board-certified neuropsychologist, Dr. Michelle Bengtson believed she was prescribing the most effective treatments for her clients who struggled with depression. But when she experienced debilitating depression herself, she found that the treatments she had recommended weren't helping her the way she expected. She was determined to find out what was missing.

With the deep compassion of someone who has been there, Dr. Bengtson blends her training and that vital missing piece she discovered to offer you a hope grounded in God's love and grace. She helps you understand what depression is, how it affects you spiritually, and what, by God's grace, depression cannot do. The result is an approach that offers not just the management of symptoms but the hope of true release.
(excerpt from back of book)

Given my experience as a student with a MA in Counselling at a well-known seminary I was curious to see how Dr. Bengtson's new book would address the topic of depression. To be honest, I'm still unsure how I felt about the book. 

The topic is timely. If people are truly honest with themselves and others, I doubt many would be unable to come up with at least one name of someone close who has battled depression and the books tackling the topic are  as  varied  and broad as I've seen. At times, Hope Prevails reads like a self-help book offering musical playlists and prayers for the reader. At other times it reads more clinically discussing the roots of depression.  Yet at other times the book turned deeply personal (almost oddly so given the transitions between sections). As a reader, I came out wondering if the book was having a slight identity crisis.  

There were helpful elements within the text and Hope Prevails could function well as an introduction to the spiritual aspects of depression. Here to I was also disappointed. While Bengtson mentions the need fora holistic approach to health addressing the many areas mental health already considers standard treatments, these treatments felt more like a passing thought in the author's good intentions of looking at  more spiritual causes. I could easily see how this message could be misconstrued to lessen a holistic approach to a more spiritually dominated one -  an approach the church has been known to abuse in the past.

3 out of 5 stars 

This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review. 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, August 20, 2016

Uninvited by Lysa Terkeurst

My first week of college I had a professor during orientation who declared his wish to hold a class for overcoming loneliness. He then went on to declare he'd tell all the attendees to simply talk to each other.
It was a simplistic formula but showed a lot of wisdom.
 In that first week we were all lonely and for the vast majority of us it was a fear of rejection that stopped us from reaching out to one another.

Loneliness is a growing problem in our over-connected, media driven world and one with which I'm intimately familiar. So, I was curious if Lysa Terkeurst's new book Uninvited  had anything valuable to bring to the table on this timely topic. 

The enemy wants us to feel rejected . . . left out, lonely, and less than. When we allow him to speak lies through our rejection, he pickpockets our purpose. Cripples our courage. Dismantles our dreams. And blinds us to the beauty of Christ’s powerful love.

In Uninvited, Lysa shares her own deeply personal experiences with rejection—from the incredibly painful childhood abandonment by her father to the perceived judgment of the perfectly toned woman one elliptical over.

With biblical depth, gut-honest vulnerability, and refreshing wit, Lysa helps readers: • Release the desire to fall apart or control the actions of others by embracing God-honoring ways to process their hurt. • Know exactly what to pray for the next ten days to steady their soul and restore their confidence. • Overcome the two core fears that feed our insecurities by understanding the secret of belonging. • Stop feeling left out and start believing that "set apart" does not mean "set aside." • End the cycle of perceived rejection by refusing to turn a small incident into a full blown issue.
(description provided)

Although I found myself pushing back on a few of Lysa's points, overall Uninvited provides a solid insight into loneliness and the aspects we can control - our beliefs and our reactions- inside the complex, craziness of life in relationship.

First off, I loved the format of this book. Appendices are brilliant and I've never seen a book utilize them quite so well. In addition to some self reflective checklist, the appendices provide a complete list of every verse and key phrase in the book. For those of us raised not to mark up a book (oh college was hard on this book lover) it almost made me giddy to see these relisted for easy reference as there were many instances that Lysa brings up worthy of deeper reflection.

I also enjoyed how Lysa's thinking breathed new and helpful life into areas that had previously felt hopelessly beaten to death. Her insights into the  story of David, Nabal, and Abigail still have me pondering. Her chapter where Hannah makes an appearance had  me scanning the room to see if she  had, somehow, gained access to my life. 

Lysa takes these topics and allows vulnerability to enter into them while steadily pointing readers back to God. Her Biblical foundation reads solidly while her compassion enters the picture as both recognizing the pain of the situation while still cheering readers on into a better space, a delicate place to stand and one she does with grace. 

As I said, there were a few points I wish I could sit down with a  cup of tea and push back with her face to face, see which elements of the argument space did not allow for - most notably her views on forgiveness (which I expanded upon in a different review, I think what she lays out is important but not necessarily forgiveness and reconciliation- Thanks Dr. Guretzki) as  well as those situations where they are truly out of one's hands.
I think that conversation would be interested for both of us :)

I really feel Uninvited is the book so many of us have sought out and yet if one truly chooses to open themselves to what Lysa's shared it won't be an easy read. Sometimes  it's the difficult reads that stay with us and are the most valuable.

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.

Friday, August 12, 2016

No Way Up by Mary Connealy (The Cimarron Legacy Book 1)

No Way Up

When Cimarron Ranch patriarch Chance Boden is caught in an avalanche, only the quick actions of hired hand Heath Kincaid save him. Before leaving by train to receive treatment to save his leg–and possibly his life–Chance demands that Heath read the patriarch’s will and see its conditions enforced immediately. If Chance’s three bickering adult children, Justin, Sadie, and Cole, don’t live and work at the ranch for an entire year, ownership of the ranch will pass to a despised distant relative.
(excerpt from back of book)

Considering the wide open possibilities and adventures that came with the old west it's surprising that my love of historical fiction doesn't enable me to cross paths more often. Connealy's latest book intrigued me: a ranching family, 3 siblings, a protective Pa, a loving housekeeper. I'll admit to have Bonaza flashbacks from the description. 

The Boden's are no Cartwright's though. The family patriarch Chance is faced with a life threatening injury. The siblings are torn between chasing their own dreams and finding a voice within the structure of the ranch, and Heath, who would really prefer a chance to know Sadie better, keeps getting caught up in a Boden family mystery that goes back generations.

Overall, Connealy offers an appealing read. The  characters are lively, the atmosphere makes you feel like you're out on the ranch (although the +40 weather we've been having this week probably hasn't hurt the ambiance), and the writing felt solid.

I do have a few warnings. First, there were a few  points which could either be disappointing threads or solid tie-ins for later books . . . it's all dependent on how Connealy continues the series. Interesting little teasers such as Angie, the orphanage, the Pueblo Indians, Rawhide could all serve to provide a more robust and interesting world for the Boden's and Kincaid to live within, if, Connealy follows through. It's always hard to tell with Book 1 of a series and my personal experience with Connealy leaves me unable to guess at how well she'll pick up those threads down the road.

I also found myself railing, at times, against Kincaid. I realize  he is written to fit a certain "character type" but at times his behaviour didn't seem to fit someone of his background and era. The poking at the Boden's and his encounters with Sadie felt more contradictory with the nature of the book given Sadie's revelations regarding her Father's will than necessary. Again, this may be to allow for a more steady  pace of growth over a series but it's still early to say for certain.

Aside from those 2 concerns No Way Up  provides a fun and entertaining read. I found the Christian elements to be  less interwoven than in other offerings I've  read recently but still prominent enough to fit well within its  genre.

4 out of 5 stars

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Mommy Needs a Raise (Because Quitting's Not an Option) by Sarah Parshall Perry

Mommy Needs a Raise (Because Quitting's Not an Option)

Lately I've been reading a lot of parenting books. 
Let's face it, the transition from  pre-child to Mommy isn't always a smooth one- no matter how much you may anticipate that change.

Mommy Needs A Raise really seemed like a must read for my house. Sarah Parshall Perry writes about life as a stay at home mom with her active household. She has two boys with autism (always  interesting as we are also adapting to life through our son's eyes with autism) and has chronic health concerns like myself. However, even with all those commonalities I struggled to connect with this book and recognize  that it's not material but personal and parenting views that we hold differently.

The format of this book was far different than any I've read this year, the first section actually focused on Perry's life before kids. This was an interesting take as many parenting books focus on life post kids without acknowledging the shaping effects of their life pre-kids.  This approach allows readers a better understanding of how  the author approaches her life and by extension her writing and this book.

Perry's wisdom is wrapped up in stories filled  with her own brand of humour and honest reflections about life. Storytelling is a strength  that Perry utilizes with skill and allows her to create  an atmosphere drawing readers in - even if they don't agree with her all of her parenting directions. The only thing to note is that Perry's storytelling skill is so strong at times, it seems, she struggles to contain it as tangents  pop up and can leave the reader confused (if they're mom to the "we refuse to sleep" crowd)

I think that's one of the things I enjoy about reading parenting books, there is wisdom to be found even when there are differing opinions. For example, Perry's final chapter contains a 20 point list that I found to be both touching and memorable. 

A few months ago I had the pleasure of reading a parenting book by Melanie Dale. She said right out that not ever reader would connect to her quirky style and she accepted that. I dove into that quirkiness and found myself sad I  could only meet the author through her one book as our quirkiness seemed to align. Others who read that book found themselves unable to continue due to the disconnect.
I feel that Perry is another such author. For some moms, her wisdom is going to hit home  in ways others cannot. Her personality and experience is going to reach out to a unique group of moms who have traded in the workforce, live out crazy schedules with somewhat sarcastic observations, and brings honesty to the struggle of so many who seek to justify a life in student loan repayment while living out the day to day of  keeping house, work from home projects,  and school age kids. For others the disconnect may be  too strong.
But  you'll have to read her work to find out which group you fall into.

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

Friday, August 5, 2016

Happy Harvest by Jean Fischer

As a child, I remember being enchanted by the distinct images which summed up Precious Moments in my young mind. The whimsical characters never ceased to bring me delight and any time I stumbled across them I was memorized.

I was so excited to see Jean Fischer's new addition to the Precious Moments family but  also had some concerns ho this wonderful part of my own childhood would measure up with my rough and tumble, vehicle-loving, can't stay clean for 5 second boys,

 I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the cover to see an absolutely charming collection of rhyme and verse that even my boys can appreciate, in their quieter moments.

While the pictures have that  dreamy stylized feel that all Precious Moments items share the characters go through  a variety of settings throughout the book allowing children to find different areas that catch their interest. My one little guy loves the image of the children on the hay wagon while his brother likes the animal pictures,
The verses are short and sweet  which does confuse my little ones a bit. They're still at  the age where  they sit down expecting a story or a picture book, The collection of verse style is a middle ground that they're still warming up too  conceptually.

That said the variety of verses were wonderful and I can see this being a book to go back to many times, especially as we start homeschooling in the fall, The hard,padded cover and board  book style also guarantee it will be around for awhile to go back too :)

Honestly, it makes me so happy that something that was dear to my childhood is now able to be passed along and shared with my children while still exposing them to scripture, verse, and poem that are so close to my own heart.

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.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Miracles From Heaven

Review Miracles From Heaven

With the exception of To Save A Life my knowledge of recent Christian films could be called limited at best. I'll be honest, I just sort of gave up on the whole genre with it's cheesy lines and pat explanations. I want some depth to my movies or at the very least some laughs and escape.

When I heard the premise of Miracles from Heaven - a young family who's middle daughter Annabel is diagnosed with a rare and severe digestive disorder who is miraculously cured - I knew this could be the movie to change my track record . . . and I was right, from the get go Miracles from Heaven  had my attention and my heartstrings.

Now don't get me wrong, there were some dreadfully cheesy parts (I'm looking at you sermon illustrations during the first church scene) but even those seemed to fit and add to the pastor's character more than being a defaulting genre stereotype. I mean, I'll be the first to admit I've laughed over similarly cheesy illustrations myself  it seems to be a very popular style for some.
That said, I really found myself blown away by the quality of this movie.

The visual set ups were gorgeous and the lighting definitely added to the overall feel of the movie. 
I love it when the shots, lighting, and setting all help to enhance the characters (let's not get started on the soundtrack because there was some major fan girl squealing when I saw Mac Powell adding to the soundtrack and some flashbacks back to high school, I'm hoping the soundtrack has more than just the score).

The characters. 
How do I even begin to talk about them (without giving spoilers). I've always been drawn to stories based on real life, probably because the characters are naturally more complex. But Jennifer Gardner and Kylie Rogers playing Christy and Annabel Beam respectively made this movie! Their acting was superb and they had a very believable chemistry as a mother/daughter duo. I also enjoyed how honestly the ups and downs of Christy and Kevin's relationship were portrayed and the quiet strength Martin Henderson brought to the role.

The plot itself was beautifully constructed. I was very impressed by how comfortable the writers were including difficult questions and leaving those questions open ended. Discussions on suffering, unanswered prayers, and relationships were all weaved in a way that, while some may find a bit heavy handed, honestly felt like conversations I have seen and participated in right down to the simple but honest "I don't know" which is sometimes the only answer that can be given. 

Viewers are also given an honest, albeit quick (given the film's focus on Christy and Anna) at the struggles a family faces when a life threatening diagnosis enters the picture. From stress on the marriage, to extra hours and sacrifices financially, to missed opportunities for siblings this film tried to pain a broader picture of how the family responds as a whole to a crisis.
Not to mention this made for a great final montage during Christy's address to the church regarding miracles the quickly brought tears to my eyes.  Yet, writers also balanced this with the unexpected joys such as the unexpected friendship of Angela (played by Queen Latifah), the immeasurable joys of spending time together after being apart, and the strength of a 6 year old who offers to forego pizza to support her sister.

Miracles from Heaven is a heartwarming and authentic film that can easily be watched with almost the family. While younger children may not understand the severity of certain topics and may be frightened by Anna's fall down the tree, for other members of the family this is a solid movie everyone can watch and enjoy while opening up room for discussion surrounding serious issues of life and faith.

Highly recommend.

Movie has been provided courtesy of Sony Entertainment Canada and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Friday, July 8, 2016

An Elegant Facade by Kristi Ann Hunter

An Elegant Façade

Kristi Ann Hunter is a gem when it comes to Regency era novels. 

A few months ago I had the pleasure of reading her debut A Noble Masquerade  and I mentioned my desire to read her future works. I was so pleased to find that Hunter has lost none of her charm, humour, and storytelling abilities in her follow up effort.

For those familiar with A Noble Masquerade, An Elegant Facade has the unique position of beginning midway through its predecessor only, this time, the younger Georgina Hawthorne is the reader's gateway into London of the past.

This style was ingenious and I admire the mental power it must have taken Hunter to pull off the feat of writing this book. While the two overlap there is no laziness inherent in these pages as Hunter manages to deepen her story by providing new perspectives on memorable scenes from A Noble Masquerade. I've never read a series where this was pulled off so well. Characters who were so well drawn in Hunter's first offering find themselves taking on new dimensions and interest thanks to the parallel telling.

I also admire Hunter's ability to make a reader care. While some may remember my preference for the elder sister Miranda, Hunter manages to provide a heroine in Georgina who is complex, memorable, and utterly human. Her relationship with Mr. McCrae not only provided a central focus driving along the plot, but pages of humor, thought provoking conversation, and character growth. 

Another wonderful outcome of Hunter's storytelling abilities is her ability to naturally weave scriptural content, growth, and honest wrestling into her characters paths. Georgina's own wrestling due to her perceived uselessness was painfully real in it's portrayal and I appreciate the way her characters never feel tacked on in this wrestling. 

Overall, if you're the sort of reader who loves or is getting into historical fiction Kristi Ann Hunter is definitely an author to keep your eyes on.

5 out of 5 stars. 

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