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.