Friday, October 28, 2011

Three Cups by Tony Townsley and Mark St. Germain

What a neat idea to write a book which deals with finances-for kids! While that concept might seem boring or "over their heads," it's really not if done the right way. And Three Cups does it wonderfully!

The illustrations are very nicely done, naturally drawing the eye toward them, and the story flows right off the page into the readers mind without being too wordy or complicated. As this book shows, using three cups to set aside savings, giving, and spending money is something anyone can do, whether young or old. Everyone has cups laying around their house and, if you or the kids want to be ambitious, decorating them could even be a fun craft as well as further investment into the project. Being able to see their own funds/allowance each day in a tangible way, should encourage your child toward good habits which will last a lifetime; and what better time to start then now? You're never too young to begin learning valuable lessons and, for parents, this book is a great tool to get them started. I wish I'd had this growing up, as I'm sure it would serve me well as an adult. I look forward to sharing Three Cups with my own daughter and going through the experience of money management together in a fun, approachable, way. Start planning for your child's future by investing in the Three Cups philosophy!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lilly's Wedding Quilt by Kelly Long

Can I just say...I loved loved loved this book! Having read other Amish fiction titles, I tended to be disappointed in the romance department. Usually these novels are very sweet but a bit dull when it comes to the relationships between the main characters. This story was definitely sweet but also edgier and I found it so refreshing to see the author not shy away from Lilly and Jacob's attraction for each other. Don't most young people have these feelings of excitement, longing and passion in a relationship? Just because these ones happen to be Amish doesn't mean they don't share the same emotions any "Englisher" does. I thought Kelly Long captured the wonder of first, or even second time, love really well making it very relate able to anyone who's ever experienced it before themselves.

This is the first book I've had the chance to read by Kelly Long and it definitely won't be the last. I'm planning on checking out Sarah's Garden, the first book in the Patch of Heaven series, and hopefully the following one when it comes out. I'd love to find out more about Seth, Jacob's warm hearted brother, and can't wait to see where romance leads him. Lilly's Wedding Quilt is a very engaging story and I found myself picking it up every spare chance I got. I'm always excited when I find a new favorite author and Kelly has definitely been added to that list. Thanks for a great read and I look forward to the next one!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Love on the Line by Deeanne Gist

Love on the Line is a fitting title for the story of our two main characters. It both literally and figuratively describes their relationship, along with the various other circumstances which have also put their lives on the line.

In Texas, bird lover/activist Georgie Gail, telephone operator for the small town of Brenham, whiles away her days fielding multiple phone calls, local gossip, and admiring her beloved feathered friends. Lucious (otherwise known as "Luscious") Landrom spends his time hunting down criminals Texas Ranger style, and along with the help of his trusted pistols Odysseus and Penelope, manages to bag outlaws left and right; all except for Frank Comer, the one who got away. Or rather gets away; repeatedly. To his chagrin, Lucious realizes the only way he stands a chance of catching the elusive criminal is by going undercover as an unsuspecting telephone repair man. Disguising himself, and ditching his fancy duds for faded overalls, Lucious changes his name to Luke Palmer, while trying to ingratiate himself with the town locals in hopes of discovering the Comer gangs whereabouts.

Upon meeting for the first time, Luke and Georgie initially have a clash of wills, but attraction quickly gives way to a softening of hearts; despite the fact the Texas Ranger openly admits to hunting birds for sport. Much as this admission galls Georgie, what will her reaction be should she find out Luke's true identity is Lucious Landrom, the man who's very name she has mocked on more than one occasion? And can Luke capture his intended targets without arousing suspicion, while still continuing to romance Georgie? With secrets abounding, can they nurture their growing love or will it be disconnected just as surely as the snap of a telephone wire?

This was an enjoyable read for me and I looked forward to spending time in the world Ms. Gist created. Having penned several other historical western novels, she proves herself very capable of handling the subject matter here competently and rather seemlessly. There are interesting details about various winged creatures, along with the crafts of marksmanship, hat making, telephone operating, etc. Small town life is depicted in all its pleasantness yet the underlying hardship is not glossed over but rather the reader feels for Georgie as a single young woman living in a man's world. She wants her independence while also retaining a sense of femininity, despite her strong viewpoint on women's rights. This was well portrayed and relateable.

I've usually found the romance in this author's books to have a nice sizzle but for some reason this one was more of a fizzle for me. I can't exactly pinpoint why, because the characters are likeable enough, but it just didn't leap off the page and grab me as I thought it would. Perhaps, it was missing more elements of the unexpected. While well written, the plot turns all went in the basic direction I expected them to and the "spoiler" toward the end wasn't a surprise as I had already figured out who the main villain really was long before his reveal. Or maybe that was intentional?

Either way, I don't want to be overly nitpicky as I did enjoy the story and have no qualms about saying Deeanne Gist is a very talented writer who does this sort of fiction with an engaging flair. I know she spends a lot of time researching each project ahead of time and it shows in the little attentions to detail, which I appreciate. They give an authenticity which can't be duplicated and the reader can feel when an author has done their homework. I'll look forward to Ms. Gist's next book, and in the meantime, probably re-read some of her "oldies but goodies."

Thanks to Bethany House Publisher for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Just In Case You Ever Wonder... by Max Lucado

This is the first children's book I've read by Max Lucado. Upon receiving our copy in the mail, my husband and I sat down with our 9 month old daughter to flip through it and see what her reaction was. She instantly grabbed at the pages, jumping up and down excitedly; so much so that I was forced to inch away for fear she'd rip the paper before I could even start the story. And mommy wanted to read the words as much as baby wanted to see the pictures, so it was a win win for both parties.

The illustrations were nice and simple; nothing too elaborate but enough color/movement to keep the kiddies interested. And the writing itself was beautiful, evoking just the thoughts and emotions that fill most parents heads when they think of their child. Who doesn't want to hear over and over just how special they are, that their mom/dad are there for them no matter what, that heaven is real? Full of reassurances that are sure to cling to every child's (and parent's) heart, this book is a lovely way to end each day. As my daughter grows older and is forced to deal with every day doubts and insecurities, I believe this story will be a comfort to her, also allowing an outlet to voice concerns as well as much needed affirmations. I was misty eyed by the time we had finished our first read through and I'm betting that will happen again. (Both the read through and the misty eyes.) Especially as my daughter begins to understand; she is so uniquely special that there is no one else on earth quite like her, I'm on her side even when the world may be against her, and most importantly, I love her very very much and always will...just in case she ever wonders.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Living Close to God (when you're not good at it) by Gene Edwards

This is a simple book, and I mean that in a complimentary way. This isn't full of flowery words, indulging rhetoric, or bloated philosophy; just basic knowledge and life experience based on one man's journey toward a meaningful relationship with God. As the author himself puts at the beginning of his book, "I consider myself to be spiritually handicapped." He doesn't claim to have all the answers but rather shows what worked for him, offering suggestions to others who may be struggling the same way.

I like that he starts from scratch regarding the level of Christianity one is familiar with. Most self help books are geared toward people with an assumed foundation of principles intact and build from there; basically they are for the churched. Edwards speaks in lay mans terms with a practicality most can understand and doesn't overwhelm readers with a long to-do list or vague statements such as, "read your bible for 30 minutes then kneel and pray by your bed for another 15." He explains that forming lifelong habits will take time and not to give up if you don't automatically remember what hasn't already come naturally to you. A relationship with God can't be forced or made to happen overnight, much as we might like it to, but needs to foster organically with nurturing along the way. Just incorporating 20 seconds of time with the Lord in the morning, upon waking up, may be a small triumph. Instead of pushing forcefully toward the goal of a closer walk with Christ, Edwards encourages us to slow down, take a deep breath, and Be ourselves while absorbing God into our lives little by little, day by day. Then, perhaps a song of praise will pop into our head out of no where or, during the early morning rush hour instead of focusing on the radio, our minds may just tune toward a heavenly frequency. And gradually, almost without even realizing it, we've incorporated God into our every day life in a very real way.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Multnomah/Waterbrook Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Forsaking all Others by Allison Pittman

After turning the final page of this book, I waited a day before writing my review. By no means a light read, Camilla's story continued to brew and steep in my mind hours later. While scrubbing dishes at the sink, my thoughts danced visually with the imagery Allison Pittman created and I wondered what her characters were doing since our initial farewell earlier in the day. (And I say "initial" because I'm sure I'll be revisiting at some point to get reacquainted with the people I've come to care about.) That's the mark of good storytelling, when you can leave the reader invested in your world and wanting more.

Forsaking all others has a beautiful literary quality to it, yet the narration remains simple as told from Camilla Fox's point of view. The beginning starts off slowly then gradually builds steam as we follow her journey from ex-mormon to child of God. She recounts the events that have led her out into a terrible snowstorm, desperately fleeing all she once held dear, in the hopes of finding the one thing no man can take from her. Camilla's reawakening to God, started in the first book For Time and Eternity, reaches soaring intensity here as she grows stronger both physically and spiritually. We witness the saving grace He sustains her with during her darkest times of despair and desperate longing for the two daughters she left behind in Salt Lake City. She also fights the feelings husband Nathan Fox still arouses in her, despite her determination to leave behind mormonism and all it represents, including polygamy. Camilla can't and won't live in plural marriage even though devout mormons all around have embraced the lifestyle as coming from Heavenly Father himself-via prophets Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. But will she continue finding the strength to follow her convictions with threats of blood atonement looming? Can she stand firm on the promises of the very God she discarded years ago to follow a religious lie? And will she be able to restore relationships from her past that matter most?

Being intrigued by the mormon religion for many years, I was rather excited when I saw advertisements for this series about sister wives, from a christian point of view. I hadn't read any of Allison Pittman's other work so was really hoping the books would be well crafted and enlightening. Given the delicacy of subject matter, it could easily come off as one note, preachy, or cartoonish so this worried me a bit. My fears were unfounded, however, as the author deftly weaves her tale with honesty yet respect. Recounting Camilla's experiences, she is careful not to tell us how we should react to various situations but rather backs off to let readers form their own opinion. I found it refreshing she didn't try to make us "like" Camilla or even approve of all her decisions, making her story even more realistic. I felt I could empathize with her characters even if I didn't always agree with the choices they made. Pittman also avoided being overly dramatic or soap opera-ish, which could have been easy to do given the theme of multiple wives. Just the definition of the word, polygamy, itself is rife with overt tension and a certain salaciousness. We are instantly intrigued how several women can share one man and still live in a state of harmony amid rivalries, co-parenting, etc. Pittman shares the pittfalls, no pun intended, of such a practice yet by the end Camilla somewhat wistfully realizes the bond she might have shared with one of her sister wives had circumstances been different. She sees what Mormon leaders may have imagined could come from the forging of several intimate relationships in an eternal bond but also that it was not the plan God had in mind when he created us.

That man will always try to interpret or twist God's words to satisfy them is no surprise given our fallen nature, but we have to be especially wary of any religion or person claiming to be the ultimate authority on all things. And as Camilla realizes, we mustn't be blinded by feelings but discern what is good and acceptable based on the truth God's word reveals.

Many thanks to Tyndale Publishers for a complimentary copy of this book in return for my honest review.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Wonder of Your Love by Beth Wiseman

This is a sweet Amish love story with a slightly different twist; instead of focusing on a younger couple per usual, the story centers around two characters who are more in the middle of their years. Having had a full, if somewhat lonely life since the passing of his wife, Eli Detweiler is looking forward to spending time exploring the various things he's previously only dreamed of. Now that his children are starting homes of their own, Eli relishes his new found freedom from all the responsibility that has previously tied him down. Meanwhile, Katie Ann Stolzfus is just beginning the journey of parenthood after giving birth to her son at an older age. She finds herself alone as her husband, Ivan, has left her for another woman, much to Katie Ann's heartbreak. A chance meeting occurs between Eli and Katie Ann where Eli compliments Katie Ann on her beautiful grandson, much to her embarrassment. After already starting off on the wrong foot, Eli looks for a way to make amends with the stand offish woman he unknowingly insulted but finds his offer of friendship rebuffed. Will Katie Ann change her opinion of Eli long enough to forge a truce...or possibly something more?

Not having read any of author Beth Wiseman's previous novels, I enjoyed this story. It was a gentle, if a bit slow paced, pleasant, read. Eli was very likeable and warm; I found Katie Anna bit frustrating at times but was glad to see a happy ending for them both. It's not my favorite of the Amish books I've read but it was well written and I commend the author for choosing something a little non-traditional in the ages of her main characters. Check out this book if you are a fan of the genre or author.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishers for my complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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