Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Review: Out of the Ordinary by Jen Turano

Gertrude appears ordinary to many people, but she is anything but ordinary. Her heart, her spirit, her fun attitude are all unique. Harrison sees that in her, just as she sees more than a handsome wealthy businessman with an unfortunate taste in clothing in him. Together they are able to resolve the problem of her employer's kleptomania and find a happy ending for everyone in the story.

I love Jen Turano's books. They're fun, light-hearted, and sometimes they even make me cry. A little. Until the happy ending. Which is important to me, because I don't pick up a book to immerse myself in someone else's sad endings and misery. I pick up a book to smile, relax, and lift my spirits.

Out of the Ordinary did all of those things. It made me smile. I relaxed ... until I made myself put the book away and then lay in bed trying to fall asleep, but still thinking about the book. The book caught my attention from the very beginning (as Turano books always do) and kept me up late for two nights in a row.  Once again, I highly recommend this fun book from Jen Turano.

April E.

Book Review: The LifeGiving Table by Sally Clarkson

I'm very late in posting this review of The Lifegiving Table by Sally Clarkson. I started reading the book months ago, but I was so wrapped up in survival mode with my family that I found the idea of trying to create a beautiful table experience with meaningful times of conversation completely overwhelming. I made it almost half-way through the book and just didn't pick it up again. Yesterday, I took it with me to read while waiting on my son at baseball practice. I'm just as overwhelmed with loving on my family these days, but I picked up the book again at just the right spot. If' I'd just kept reading one more chapter last time I would have come to the part where Sally pours grace all over the reader and tells us that even a snack meal can be life-giving if it's presented in the right way and your presence is given to your children.

We're still just as likely to eat at the couches, on paper plates, before my husband is home from late-hours at work most nights. But this new stage of life has me preparing Sunday afternoon meals for my family and our adult children, gathering together on a weekly basis. It means getting up a little earlier on Sunday morning, and prepping some meal items on Saturday night, but it has been worth the effort. We've pulled out the table cloths and made the effort to be sure our large dining room table (which also serves as our school area) is cleared off on Saturday night and all the non-food items set out ready to go after church.

Don't let the idea of family meals or creating a place of beauty for your family overwhelm you. Sally encourages us to make the most of what we have, and creating a respite and gathering place for our family no matter where we are. I may have a cluttered home, a dining room that doubles as a school room, and walls that desperately need to be repainted - but I can still set the table, fill it with good food, and pour love out on my family in the process.

"Learning to create beauty and peace in everyday moments was what kept me going in the middle of it all. Food, feasting, and traditions are not frivolous, but ways to make life work, to make it sustainable. Predictable peace, comfort, and fellowship are something every home should provide - at least most of the time."
          ~ Sally Clarkson, The Lifegiving Table

Each chapter in Sally's book ends with something to think about, something to try, and a few of their family's favorite recipes. The something to ponder is usually Scripture, a few devotional thoughts, and quotes. Something to try are practical steps you can take to apply the chapter's message. The recipes range from simple family recipes to delectable treats that the Clarkson's enjoy.  I'll be trying some of the recipes myself, though not all of them suit our personal style and food tastes, here.

If you're looking for encouragement in the task of caring for your family on a daily basis, or looking for ideas to create lasting family memories and traditions, The Lifegiving Table is a wonderful source of inspiration. I admit to feeling weary of cooking and kitchen chores on a regular basis. It helps to be reminded of WHY I feed my family and WHY I take time to cook family favorites instead of relying on easy frozen options. (Which we do use - too much during our current baseball season.)

April E.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Review: Adored Devotions for Young Women

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Adored: 365 Devotions for Young Women has an important message for young ladies. The message is simply that they are never alone. They are loved by their Creator God and He is always with them. He will never fail them, and His grace is always available. I've looked through this devotional and although it states that it is intended for teenage girls, I believe my 11.5 year old daughter is ready for it. The devotions are short, but meaningful - covering aspects of godly womanhood, grace, honesty, godly love, and so much more than just dealing with mean girls at school.

The book itself is small - a hardcover that's a little wider than most paperback books. The cover design and page edges are elegant and lovely, perfect for a maturing young lady. The daily devotions each begin with a Bible verse, the accompanying devotion varies from 2 - 3 paragraphs in length, never exceeding one page of the book. There are a few lines at the bottom of each page to add a prayer, notes on how the devotion applies to their life, or a Bible verse.

My daughter is just a few months from turning twelve and I'm going to put this devotional into her hands to begin on January 1. It's exactly what I would have needed at that age, and many of the messages in it are still the reminders I need today. Thank you Zondervan for publishing a meaningful devotional for pre-teen and teenage girls.

April E.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Review: Becoming MomStrong by Heidi St. John

 Heidi St. John's book, Becoming Mom Strong, is a call-to-arms for Christian Moms everywhere! The subtitle of the book is "How to fight with all that's in you for your family and your faith." Being a warrior isn't the first image that comes to mind when we picture motherhood. Motherhood usually invokes images of white ruffly gowns, baby snuggles, rocking chairs, and a soft glowing light.

Some moms find themselves invoking their warrior mom early, as babies born with serious health conditions find them fighting for their child's life immediately. Some are warrior moms as their battle with postpartum depression rears it head. Some of us find ourselves getting along just fine, managing to do things on our own strength for a long time, until we find ourselves exhausted, burned out and overwhelmed. At that point, we are discouraged as our children's misbehavior and the constant, everyday parenting struggles and monotonous mountain of chores start to seem pointless. We feel as if it's never going to end and we aren't making a difference. The devil has found our weak point, he's caught us relying on our own strength and not God's strength.

Eventually, our children grow up, and we are burdened to pray for them as they  make life-changing decisions and as they face the difficulties of life on their own. It's too late to undo our past parenting choices. They're on their own now, and all we can do is pray.

In Becoming Mom Strong, Heidi St. John challenges us to always go to God's Word as our measuring stick for truth. She reminds us that we are fighting a battle against spiritual forces that lie to us, and to our children. We are fighting a culture that wants to distract us and destroy our faith in God, and wants to steal our children. This battle is so important and we can't let ourselves become discouraged and give up.

The majority of the book was a confirmation of the very things God has been laying on my heart. It was affirmation that what I'm doing is important and reminders to keep finding my strength in God's Word and to seek His presence daily.  

But when I got to chapter twelve, I broke out my highlighter. I cried. Because I have felt burned out. I have felt overwhelmed. With children ranging from preschool through young adulthood, I am facing a wide variety of spiritual needs and difficult behavior. It can be so tiring and I've found myself "checking out" at times. Heidi reminded me that I can not check out. This is a battle. I must be a warrior mom. Because nothing else is worth fighting for as much as the hearts and faith of my children.

I know this book can bless every mother, but I feel like it's essential for the moms whose children are ten and above. Once our children reach the age of ten, they're bombarded with so many more messages from society, and they're beginning to question things. They're making their faith their own, and wading through so many mixed messages.

But we can't give our children what we don't have. We have to be strong in our faith, sure of what we believe, if we are going to be able to pass that faith on to our children. They need to see us living it ourselves. They need to see us in God's Word, praying, turning to Him for answers. We have to be Mom Strong to lead them and to fight for them.

Becoming Mom Strong is inspiring, courage-building, and I'm looking forward to digging into the accompanying Bible Study now that I've finished the book. I recommend it for all Christian Moms.

April E.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Review: The Beautiful Word for Christmas by Zondervan

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Can you see how beautiful this book really is? The Beautiful Word for Christmas is a little, square hardcover book that is perfect for gift giving. The first fifty pages have beautiful calligraphy and illustrations depicting the Nativity story from Luke 1 and 2. The remaining 157 pages have 31 daily devotions with a follow-up activity to carry you through the Advent season.

I've been peeking into the devotions and the suggested activities, and I'm looking forward to reading these in November and December. We use a different devotion for our family during Advent, but I will enjoy these devotions and challenges myself. Each day's devotion starts with a short Scripture, then tells a story that ties in with the scripture and leads right into the day's activity. The activities include challenges to spend screen-free time with your family, send a letter or card to someone needing encouragement, reach out to immigrants in your community, bless others, and prepare yourself spiritually for Christmas and the New Year.

The devotions are more of a story to ponder than a deep expose of Scripture. The meat of this devotion lies more in the act of following through with the day's activity - taking the time to bless someone else or prepare your own heart for the upcoming season. This book isn't difficult to work through, but taking the time to do it can bring joy to you, and others this year. When you're done reading it, pass it on to someone else for next year. Or buy a copy for yourself, and a copy to give as a gift.

April E.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Review: Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker

Of Mess and Moxie
Of Mess and Moxie is essentially a collection of essays by Jen Hatmaker. The overall theme of the book is that we are all a bit of a mess in one way or another, and we need moxie to get through our life and live free of shame and guilt and self-inflicted condemnation. At least that's the gist of it that I got.

The chapters stand alone fairly well - there isn't a particular flow from one chapter into the next - which is why I called them essays. This does lend itself well to short bursts of reading, just one chapter a night, or each day while waiting to pick up your children from a sports practice, or while hiding in the bathroom with the last ice cream sandwich.

Jen Hatmaker uses her usual brand of sarcasm and humor mixed with encouragement. Reading her books lets you say, "Ah, I'm not alone!" and "Me too!"  Of Mess And Moxie isn't any different - especially when you read her four "How To" sections, with sarcastic and ironic how-tos gleaned from other mothers on the internet. It's so good to know I'm not the only one whose kids do that stuff.

I do have to admit that I was expecting something different from this book. I'm not sure what. Maybe more structure and a flow that would outline well and build like a sermon with three points and 9 subpoints. I was encouraged. I smiled and I laughed. I marked a chapter and thought of someone who needed to hear that encouragement. I even marked a chapter to come back and re-read for myself. It just wasn't what I was expecting and I haven't yet figured out what I was expecting.

April E.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Review: A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White

As World War I is brewing in Europe, the mysterious Mr. V hires London thief, Rosemary Gresham, to prove the reclusive Peter Holstein is loyal to Germany, not England. Peter Holstein is eager to prove he's an English subject and loyal to England. The proof is buried somewhere in the family's disorganized and over-stuffed library, which every librarian or secretary he tries to hire refuses to tackle. Miss Gresham appears uninvited on his doorstep as a supposed answer to prayer. But is she? Or will she prove his enemies right instead?

As I read the first two chapters of this book, I initially thought there were just too many of Rosemary's "family members" to keep track of. The introduction to her adopted family of street urchins and thieves was overwhelming at first. However, the story quickly moved to Cornwall and the Holstein estate of Kensey Manor. Peter Holstein is a secret author, a confidant of the King and Prince of England, and friends with multiple authors across England. He prefers writing, due to a stutter and general social awkwardness. Rosemary has carefully practiced hiding behind a mask and fitting into society's upper levels so she can ploy her trade as a thief. But it's hard to hide her temper and her lack of education in her extended stay at Kensey Manor.

Despite the secrets they each hide, Rosemary and Peter form a friendship and growing attraction, mostly developed through the letters they begin to share each day. Rosemary becomes his advocate as vandalism and threats to Kensey Manor increase.  However, Mr. V brings a harsh reality-check when he arrives and reminds her of the job she was hired to do - threatening her and her adopted family with jail if she doesn't come through.

Will she turn in condemning information about Mr. Holstein? Will he still care for her if he knows she's a thief? How will she say goodbye to Mr. Holstein and her new friends in Cornwall? Does his God care about a street urchin and thief, and will He hear her prayers, too? 

I thoroughly enjoyed A Name Unknown by Roseanna M. White. I had never read any of her books before, but I'm eager to read the rest of the Shadows Over England series. This series will follow Rosemary's family as they are each called on to aid England through their unique skill set as thieves during World War I. It's a perfect blend of historical romance and intrigue.

April E.