"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."

-C.S. Lewis

What we read has such an impact on us, and I am always on the lookout for something that will inspire me to be a better person. Here is a sampling of books that have been in the teetering stack sitting on top of what is rumored to be my bedside table.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A Beauty Refined, by Tracie Peterson

Tracie Peterson's latest work, A Beauty Refined, is the second in the Sapphire Brides series.  I haven't read the first book, but that didn't cause any confusion for me.

This installment is the story of Phoebe Von Bergen, the daughter of a German count.  She and her father are in Montana to purchase sapphires for a client of her father's.  While there, Phoebe uncovers the truth of her mother's supposed death.  In the process, she learns more about her family's secrets than she dreamed existed.  Aided by new friends, including a lapidary named Ian Harper, Phoebe struggles to make sense of her new world.

This was an enjoyable read.  It's well researched.  Peterson does an excellent job of describing her setting so that the reader feels at home there.  The story was fairly typical of historical Christian romance.  It makes a great relaxing read.

Three out of Five Stars.

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Friday, June 17, 2016

101 Ways to Have Fun, from the Editors of Faithgirlz and Girls' Life magazine

This book is a super cute gift idea for a preteen or teen girl at the start of the summer.  The title says it all - it's page after colorful page of ideas for things to do when you're bored.  It's in an easy-to-read magazine format.

Chapter Topics:  Just for You, Have a Blast with Your BFF, Friend Zone, Mini Makeovers, Super Sleepovers, Throw the Best Bash, Fun Ways to Make $ Fast, Get Active, and Get Crafty.  The chapters are filled with great ideas, recipes, and craft projects that are fun to do.  

The book also gives approximate times of how long each idea will take.  Ideas range in complexity from simple to complicated, and cover a wide variety of topics.  There should be something in here for every girl to find and enjoy.  Plus, since it's from Faithgirlz, this is all good wholesome fun, with nothing overtly religious.

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Four out of Five Stars

Spiritual Warfare for Your Family, by Leighann McCoy

I'm really not sure what to think of this book.  I think that the cover is a bit of a scare tactic - "What you need to know to protect your children."  It doesn't really accurately describe what's in the book.  

Basically, the book is about strengthening your relationship with God through prayer.  I agree with the author's theology.  She doesn't offer a magic wand, nor does she promise that God will make all your problems go away if you just <fill in your own blank.>  She doesn't pay into the prosperity gospel that's become so popular lately, and that alone is enough to make me feel this book is worthwhile.   You're getting actual Bible-based information here, and that's an incredibly valuable component of modern Christian writing.

That said, the first part of the book was very difficult to get through.  It seemed to wander from topic to topic quite a bit.  The last half of the book was better, in my opinion.  Although I will say that much of the advice given in this book is very general.  It's probably better suited for a group book study so that you can discuss these ideas with others and delve deeper into these concepts than this book does.  I think that the book tries to cover too much, and ends up not covering much very well.

Disclaimer:  I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.  

Three out of Five Stars

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Siren's Song, by Mary Weber

Siren's Song  is the third book in a fantasy trilogy.  I did not realize it was part 3 of a trilogy when I picked it up to read.  Obviously, it would be much better to read parts 1 and 2 first!

The writing was solid, but I struggled to get through the book.  This isn't the first time I've walked into a movie after intermission, so to speak, but typically speaking, I can follow the plot quite well.  Not so with this book.  There was very little review of what had already happened, as so many other sequels have.  And so, it was tough for me to understand what was happening.  I think a lot of this was due to the fact that the main character herself was struggling to understand what was happening in her world.  And since the book is told in first person, I suffered the same confusion.  

I will say that there was quite a lot of sitting around the talking, rather than any real action until the end.  This didn't add to my enjoyment.

I did think the writing was good, as I've already mentioned.  I'd read other books by this author - this just wasn't the one for me.

Two out of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Emily Climbs, Book #2 in My 2016 LM Montgomery Challenge

     So, right off the bat, I have to say that I'm not doing so well in my drive to read an LMM book each month in 2016.  I finished Emily Climbs on Leap Day, but haven't actually written the review.  This is primarily due to my absolute love of my teaching job, plus the busy-ness of a daughter who had 2 horse shows in 3 weeks and a son who earned Webelos rank in Cub Scouts.  

     But I'm back on track with the blog, which frankly is always going to take second place to my children and my students because that's how God intended it!

     Anyway - about Emily Climbs!  This has always been my favorite book in the Emily series.  This book sees Emily going off to high school in nearby Shrewsbury.  Since the place is 20 miles away and Emily doesn't have the luxury of living in the time of public transportation or motorcars, she's got to board with her Aunt Ruth.  (And had I remembered about Aunt Ruth, my daughter would not have Ruth as a middle name!)  Readers of Emily of New Moon might have thought Aunt Elizabeth was practically Machiavellan, but she's got nothing on Aunt Ruth!  

     Among the many charms of Emily's three years in Shrewsbury, we see her drive to climb her Alpine Path of writing.   She truly burns that midnight candle - she has to, since Aunt Ruth tries to push her writing down by giving her extra chores during the day.  

     The introduction of new characters is a welcome change after the short cast of characters in Emily of New Moon.  Aunt Ruth might be half-baked, but she's entertaining with her sniffs and her "Em'lys."  And then there's Evelyn, whose last name escapes me at the moment - but a better archnemesis in a YA book you will not find!  I think most of us remember an Evelyn from our own high school days, which makes the character spring to life.

     And the New Moon characters are still ever present - Ilse with her madcap personality, Perry with a new drive to make himself into something respectable, and Teddy with his subtly romantic charm.  (Emily and Teddy's first kiss popped into my head during my first kiss with my husband - it's no wonder I married the guy!).

      Then there's Dean Priest.  Poor Dean, whom we were introduced to toward the end of New Moon - a school chum of Emily's late father whom the reader knows early on is "waiting" for Emily to grow up so he can marry her.  If I was creeped out by Dean as a child, I am appalled by him as an adult.  Emily really has no idea he's interested in her as anything other than a father/daughter relationship, Dean knows this, and yet he still secretly tries to woo her.  (So many italics!  Mr. Carpenter would disapprove!)  Even more disturbing, he's worse than Aunt Ruth in his attempt to dissuade Emily from her writing.  Aunt Ruth is at least open about it.  Dean is quiet and manipulative and everything you'd warn your daughter against in any friend.  And, of course, the denouement of this relationship is left for Book Three, Emily's Quest.

     I've said this before, but I love Emily because she's more real than almost any other LMM character I can think of, with the exception of Valancy Stirling in The Blue Castle.  Anne Shirley might be Canada's sweetheart, but Emily is the face we all see in the mirror every morning.  All the heroines of modern day YA trilogies have absolutely nothing on Emily.   Who needs Katniss Everdeen's bow and arrow when you can slay all your enemies with a single Murray look?  Emily really comes into her own in Emily Climbs, and the book leaves the reader in eager anticipation of Emily's Quest.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Mermaid Moon, by Colleen Coble

     In Mermaid Moon, we meet Mallory, who must return to her Maine hometown after the sudden death of her father.  Shortly after arriving, she realizes that her father may have been murdered.  She is joined in this theory by Kevin O'Connor,  a local game warden who is an integral part of her past.  And her father's death isn't the only foul play to occur.  One by one, more tragedies strike until Mallory realizes that she may be the next target.  With the help of Kevin, Mallory seeks to resolve the issues of a distant past that has come back to haunt her.  

     I think the setting was the true star of this Christian romantic suspense.  Coble writes such brilliant descriptions that I really felt I was living in a coastal Maine town with her characters.  The book is worth the read just for that.

     Other than that, I found it difficult to get into the plot.  Multiple traumatic events happen in this book, and the characters seem to take them in stride for the most part.  Mallory doesn't seem to grieve much for her father, which I found odd.  And she keeps finding excuses for other terrifying events that happen.  I found myself more intrigued by Kevin and his family politics than I did by Mallory and her many crises.

     Coble is a talented author, and I'll read more of her books.  This one was just all right for me, but her writing is such that I want to seek out what else she's written.

     Disclaimer:  I was given this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.   

     Three out of Five Stars

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Planet Middle School, by Kevin Leman

     I'm a big fan of Kevin Leman's works, and so I jumped on this one as soon as I saw it.  This is the first parenting book of his that I've read, and it certainly lived  up to the high standards of his other books.

     Leman, a psychologist, writes about the middle school years from the seasoned perspective of a father of five grown children.  But he also writes of current issues that middle school students face in a world overrun with technology and loosening moral standards.  The book discusses the psychological effect that so many changes at one time have on children of this age.  It explains why your sweet little child has now become unpredictable and confusing to you as a parent.   More importantly, it tells you how to handle frustrating (maddening, blood-pressure-raising) situations in a way that will leave your relationship with your middle schooler intact on the other side.

     This book is full of practical advice that you'll be able to use quickly.  If you're the parent of a middle school student, odds are that you'll be using advice found in this book within 12 hours of reading it.  It's not wishy-washy like some parenting books are.  It gets right down to the nitty gritty and gives you concrete solutions that leave your child feeling respected while you retain your authority as a parent.  

     Leman is respected in the Christian community, but this book really doesn't mention his faith more than a couple of times.  It's a resource that all parents will be able to use.  It's a light read - Leman's style is quite humorous and you will laugh out loud - but it's full of such solid advice that it's really a must-read.

      Five out of Five Stars

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Other Side of the River, by Robert D Halpert, MD.

     Halpert has written a work that discusses Stonewall Jackson and the faith that inspired him.  It's an interesting concept, as I've never read anything that handles this subject matter.

     Unfortunately, the style of the novel made it difficult to read.  It almost has the feel of an Erik Larson book, but where Larson's books have clearly defined point of view and smooth flow, this book does not.  It alternates back and forth between nonfiction and fiction styles - sometimes within the same paragraph.  The juxtaposition of the two does not work well.  The nonfiction portions were often long and didactic, and I would forget in a chapter who the point of view character was.  As a result, transitions were choppy, and the resulting confusion made this a very tough read for me.  My confusion detracted from the subject matter.

     On the plus side, it is meticulously researched and clearly the author spent a great deal of time putting in many interesting details.  I do think this would have worked better as a straight nonfiction book.

     I so wanted to like this book, and I am disappointed that I have to give it such a poor review.  But it was such a tough read for me that I really can't give it more than two stars.

     Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher for a fair and honest review.


Friday, January 29, 2016

Emily of New Moon, by L.M. Montgomery

   Over at the Reading to Know blog, there's an L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge for the month of January.  The idea behind the challenge is to read as much of LMM's works during the month of January.  I couldn't do that because of other obligations, so I've tweaked the challenge to suit my needs.  I'll be reading and reviewing at least 1 LMM book per month during 2016.  I've loved LMM's works since the 7th grade - I still have all the old copies I purchased with my allowance money down at the B. Dalton at the Inland Center Mall in San Bernardino.  Plus new copies that I keep in case of emergency - because what if in some awful future Rilla of Ingleside goes out of print, my copy is ruined, and then I can't read about the Blythe family's WWI saga?   What then, I ask you!

     I'm starting 2016 off with the big guns - the Emily series.  Now, I was reading Emily Climbs the very day I started dating the man I would later marry.  So the series will always have a soft spot in my heart.

    Reading Emily of New Moon, the first of the three-part series, has been such a joy this month.  I hadn't read it in several years, and reading it again has been like a beautiful homecoming.  For those who have been unfortunate enough to miss it thus far, it's the story of a young girl who goes to live with her mother's family after the death of her father.  

     Montgomery wrote this book in 1923, over ten years after her marriage to a Presbyterian minister who suffered from melancholia.  I think by this time in her life, she had a very deep sense not only of suffering, but also of perseverance and optimism.  Her experiences with reality are much more apparent in the Emily series than they are in the Anne series, most of which were written earlier in her life.

     Emily's story has a glorious depth to it  The heavy themes that are covered in just this one book are incredible, but Montgomery writes about them with an understanding that they are simply part of life in a fallen world. Loss of a loved one, traumatic brain injury, depression,  alcoholism, guilt - the list goes on!  But running through it all is this delightful love of God and family, plus that "heritage of fairyland" that is so pervasive in all Montgomery's works.  This book relates to real life and real people, and it's relevant almost 100 years after its initial publication.

      For those of us who know the book, there are such wonderful treats throughout it.  I smiled so many times while reading about the Wind Woman, Emily's letters to her father, Cousin Jimmy's poetry, the flash, candles in the New Moon windows, Ilse's temper, Perry's determination, Teddy's love of art, and Emily's great need to prove her worth to a loving yet often cynical family.  These are very real characters who get under your skin and stay with you as long as you let them.

     I could wax on forever, honestly.  Long story short - read this book if you haven't, revisit it if you have.  You won't regret it!



Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Girl From the Train, by Irma Joubert

     The Girl From the Train is a delightful journey that I simply did not want to end.  It is a must read for anyone who likes historical fiction from the 1940s and 1950s

     Gretl is a little German girl who escapes a train bound for Auschwitz.  Jakob is a young Polish man who rescues her and takes her into his home.  She lives with his family for a few years, but circumstances force her to leave.  She ends up being taken in by a South African family.  This story is about the growth and self-discovery both of these characters make through an interesting time in history for both Eastern Europe and South Africa.

     Joubert writes with such elegance, and her characters are so real you feel as though you've known them forever.  A former teacher, Joubert's research into these times and places is quite evident in the book.  Jakob's love of Polish traditions and his involvement in Polish politics of the time are fascinating.  Gretl's story is equally as captivating.  She's a girl with multiple experiences which she must learn to reconcile - her German, Polish, and South African roots conflict with each other almost as much as her Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic backgrounds do.  And through all of this is woven a very compelling and innocent love story.

     In a word, this novel is breathtaking.  It's one of my new favorites, which I plan on rereading many times.  I highly recommend it to anyone who knows how to read.  Seriously.

Disclaimer:  I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Five out of Five Stars, in case you couldn't tell.   =)


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage, by Lee and Leslie Strobel

I picked this book up after having seen it mentioned by a few trustworthy articles on couples who are unequally yoked.  I know that Lee Strobel is better known for other books, but this is the first of his that I've read.  I was impressed not only by his candid writing style, but also by the solid theology that exists throughout the book.  It is clear that a lot of thought went into this book, and I appreciated that as someone who can benefit from its wisdom.

The Strobels wrote this book from the perspective of a couple who has been through spiritual mismatch in marriage - Leslie converted to Christianity two years before Lee did.  Their experience gives this book more credibility.  They are able to address many questions that arise when a Christian experiences the turmoil that can result from marriage to an unbeliever.

Throughout the book, they cover the following topics:  their own story, how to find joy in the marriage despite the spiritual mismatch, and tips for how to introduce the unbelieving spouse to God without being pushy.  All advice is centered on Biblical passages.  The Strobels make no grand claims that every Christian will be able to convert his or her unbelieving spouse.  However, they do provide a sense of peace that God will use the marriage for good.  And throughout the book, the reader is encouraged to keep his or her marriage flourishing despite the spiritual mismatch.  The aim of this book is a happy marriage, regardless of each spouse's beliefs.

As the wife of an unbeliever, I found the advice in this book to be very encouraging.  I especially appreciated the section on discovering the exact nature of a spouse's unbelief and how to handle that particular situation - not every spouse is going to fit the mold of Lee's story, after all.

There are also two extra chapters at the end.  One is on boundaries that Christians should set when dating to avoid a spiritual mismatch.  The other is on marriages where two Christian partners are at different points in their spiritual growth.  

I recommend this book for any Christian who needs help with an unequally yoked relationship, be it a marriage or a dating relationship.  

Five out of Five Stars

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Delighting in God, by A.W. Tozer and James L. Snyder

     I'd heard of A.W. Tozer before reading this book, but I'd never read any of his work.  After having read this compilation of his writings by James L. Snyder, I am intrigued and will seek out more of Tozer's work.

     It's rare to find a theologian who is so starkly honest about the state of the evangelical church.  This book is a call to action, a plea for Christians to find the innate joy that comes from a relationship with God.  Tozer especially calls out churches that resort to "entertain[ing] the people" in an effort to bring in large numbers of people to Sunday services.  "Worship today," he writes, "is too emotional and fails to quiet our souls to fully experience the presence of God."  He argues for a worship of God that is based on God alone, not God "plus" anything else.

     This book is more than worth the read for anyone who is feeling that something is missing from their faith life.  It's also especially important for anyone who is satisfied with their faith life.  This book is a challenge to examine our hearts and see what more we can be doing to fully experience the joy that comes from a real relationship with God.

Disclaimer:  I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Five out of Five Stars