Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Berenstain Bears' Caring and Sharing Treasury by Jan and Mike Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears are one of those series that brings up happy memories of bedtime stories with my own parents. Adventures with Mama, Papa, Brother and Sister Bear throughout Bear Country was a standard part of my childhood and one I eagerly looked forward too.With that in mind, I was excited to introduce the next generation of our family to these beloved bears. 

The Berenstain Bears Caring and Sharing Treasury. consisting of 5 separate stories: Jobs around town, Gossip Gang, Get Involved, Love Their Neighbors, The Biggest Brag, each focused on a different discipline or moral quality that the family is working on developing.

The stories were all very readable and of a reasonable length seeing as my 3 year old happily sat through a story without getting distracted. The illustrations will quickly bring back memories to those who enjoyed the series as children themselves.

Overall, I enjoyed the series. The Gossip Gang clearly illustrated the need to watch our words in a way children can understand. Get Involved showed some practical ways to help out in your community. Love Their Neighbour brought up images of The Good Samaritan with a bear county twist.
Every story had a clear and undeniable message.

I did have a few things I felt were worth noting about this treasury.
For one, I'm not sure I would be able to give this to any non-Christian friends or family. The scriptural references and Christian themes were very overt and the wording was firmly set in an older evangelical tradition.
My second note was regarding the first story. While my son and I enjoyed the variety of jobs that were explored I wasn't comfortable  with the message at the end. I've seen the damage of believing that there is a perfect job we are each entitled to have, people forget that sometimes in life we need to work and take care of responsibilities that are unpleasant. 

That said, I think for those who are already familiar with The Berenstain Bears and Christianity will find this a nostalgic trip back to their childhood that they get to relieve with the next generation.

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.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Sea Rose Lane by Irene Hannon

Spending a decade on the prairies teaches you a thing or two about small towns.
One of the things that is often overlooked with small towns is that, sometimes, all it takes is one special thing to make that town shine in the memories of anyone who encounters it.

Hope Harbour from Sea Rose Lane is one of those small towns that doesn't just have that one unique thing but a small scattering which endear it, making it shine to all who encounter it - inhabitants and readers alike.

Sea Rose Lane focuses primarily upon the characters of BJ and Eric.
One rebuilding their life after lost relationships and the other after failed career dreams. Now, I should probably tell you this is a contemporary romance novel and these are our star players. I found myself a little confused though.

I though they were both great characters and I love the personal growth they both under went.
I felt their ending was well resolved for the plot (for those of you who don't like too many loose ends when the next book in the series has already been announced).
However, at times, their relationship felt more in line with a high school/college freshman romance than that of professionals in their mid 30's. If you can overlook the awkwardness of their inner dialogue the rest of the romance provides a wonderful background for BJ's healing from her past and Eric's return to faith.
In fact, I found Hannon's approach to Eric interesting. Usually in this style of book there is a mentor or the love interest who are strong in their faith and it leads the other to a point of crises where they find themselves confronting what they believe. I really appreciated how naturally things flowed though in Sea Rose Lane: natural talks with a father, cryptically wise chats with Charley over painting and tacos, the witness of BJ's earnestness, and even the talks with Luis at his lowest. Sometimes it takes one person, more often it's a series of events, questions, and talks and I love how Hannon led Eric on that journey.

Now, on to (in my opinion) the highlight of the book.

The supporting cast!

I'm not sure what it was but between Eleanor, Luis, and Charley I could not read this book fast enough! I loved Charley's quiet wisdom and friendly eccentricity. Honestly, I wish I could sit down at his taco stand and pick his brain even though I'm well aware I hate fish taco's and he's a fictional character :)

Eleanor was so sweet and heart breaking in her struggles of advancing age. I'm sure the fact that I know so many dear ladies in similar situations didn't help my emotions as Eleanor's struggle to find purpose in her life continued to unfold. Elanor and Methuselah were the bringers of many smiles as I saw the ladies of my childhood reflected in this character.

Luis. Oh what to say about this character. Can I say thank you to Hannon for writing a character who struggles the way Luis does with his grief? So often the church glosses over the effects of grief and trauma which makes it so much harder to offer the help required. Luis dignity and gentle spirit helped him steal the scene whenever he enter in and I honestly gave a happy squeal when I realized what Hannon had in store for this wonderful construction worker,

Overall, while the inner dialogue brought an awkwardness to BJ and Eric's developing romance, Hope Harbour and her cast of characters are simply to charming to miss. 4 out of 5 stars

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell

Somehow, despite all those classes I took, I managed to miss reading any of Gary Chapman's Love Languages series in college. According to my classmates, this was sort of miraculous because the books were everywhere. I actually remember many cases where someone would mention "love tanks" or ask someone what there language was and blankly stare until I made the connection. However, the book didn't necessarily fit into my focus and I let it be.

Fast forward a few years and my family now includes a husband and two little boys. as well as the dawning realization that, even factoring in the gender difference, there seems to be honest differences in how we expressed and received love. It was definitely time to jump into Chapman's series.

First off, I loved how Chapman laid out his book. Utilizing the expertise of Ross Campbell, Chapman has laid out his book in easy to read, self contained chapters that each bear a quick summary for easy referencing later on. Seeing as this book is geared towards those with children, the ability to read a chapter, put it down after a nap and come back later without interrupting a train of thought made for a much smoother read.

The material itself was similarly easy to read. Pulling on both authors strengths the text clearly leads readers through each language, the process of determining one's language, and even branching out into areas such as marriage or single parent households. I loved how holistic this was looking at the entire family and not just the portion (in this case the kids).

This holistic approach really allowed Chapman to look at his material from all angles./I appreciated his cautions about changing languages as children went through different ages as well as cautions for how to approach discipline without fulfilling a child's need for love. While I think it's infinitely harder in practice, he raises some interesting food for thought.

Overall, I appreciated Chapman and Campbell's work especially as a mom to two young children but can still see the benefit for any who regularly interact with children of any age.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Christian Book of Mystical Verse compiled by A.W. Tozer

Have you ever been up late, working hard into the night when a craving hit?
Maybe you grabbed something sweet or salty or maybe even a hearty meal to satisfy that urge.

Lately our youngest hasn't been sleeping (thank you 1 year molars the gift that keeps on giving) and I found myself hit with a craving for poetry (I have mentioned I'm a geek before right?)

It seemed quite providential when Moody Publishing released The  Christian Book of Mystical Verse  right at the beginning of tooth #2. How could I resist?

Although the book lists A.W. Tozer on its cover, Tozer functioned as the compiler of this collection rather than contributor. Instead the pages are filled with the words of Fredrick William Faber, Jean Marie De La Motte-Guyon, Charles Wesley, Thomas Blacklock, Isaac Watts, and Christina Rosetti.

While I was introduced to poetry early and consistently through life, I was pleased to see this collection included many verses I was unfamiliar with. I was also impressed to see the equal footing given to both male and female writers, and the variety of topics covered in the pages.

I will say that I had a very hard time connecting with Faber's verses. I'm guessing it was a stylistic conflict. Unfortunately  Tozer did not share this difficulty and featured his work heavily throughout the book.
Variety is definitely a strength within this collection, however, and there really is a writer for everyone to connect with in this collection.

The Christian Book of Mystical Verse provides  a fascinating selection to both help readers in their reflections as well as introduce them to the writings of those who have gone before.

4 out of 5 stars

I received this book from Moody Publishing in exchange for an honest review, The views expressed are my own and unaltered.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

You're Already Amazing Life Growth Guide by Holley Gerth

Alright, time for a fair warning.

Due to some unique circumstances, I'm reviewing Holley Gerth's LifeGrowth Guide without having actually read her accompanying book You're Already Amazing.

Normally, I would wait until I had tracked down the original, especially since a guide book uses so many references to it's predecessor.

Actually, due to those above circumstances I had decided prior to starting that this was going to be solely a fun read and didn't even bother getting into the head space to review .  . . then I started reading.

One of my biggest pet peeves these days is all the general format that features in personal growth books currently flooding the market.
Even though we're in a state of information overload, the unifying feature I've found is that the vast majority of these books tell readers what to do without giving real, visceral steps as to how.
 Even with books I love there is often an undercurrent of discouragement for readers because the ideals being shared seem so unrealistic when I survey my own little mountain range of dishes, laundry, and toys while my children echo through the halls.
Books can seem a little too out of touch in the busyness of life.

Which is why my heart kept leaping with each chapter of Holley's guide. I'm going to take a stab that the first book (which I don't have) consists of those what's and why's but You're Already Amazing Lifegrowth Guide is full of how's and to-do's.

Don't get me wrong there are no perfect 10 steps to wholeness or 6 weeks to being the best person that works for everyone but in her guide Holley provides a toolbox filled with activities and practices to help readers connect to the lessons she's already shared. Based on solid scriptural messages as well as counselling techniques (oh the flashbacks to my years in college), Holley provides an easily accessible book that would open seamlessly into group or private study.

I loved how the guide could easily be tailored depending on group size and the unique personalities and gifts present during the study. Even the questions seemed easily alternated between quiet introspection and reflective talk around a table.

The outline itself for group sessions was thoughtfully constructed so that groups could be led with little experience and in fact could be used to help leaders grow in their ability to facilitate future gatherings. I really do love when a group study allows and expect equal participation and willingness to grow from all members including those in leadership.

If you're considering leading a book study, reading group, or life growth group for women in your area or are just looking for a little personal direction I would highly recommend this book.

4 out of 5 stars (until I can get my hands on the accompanying book)