Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Reviewer's Bookshelf: At Love's Bidding by Regina Jennings

Books Summary (Amazon): After helping her grandfather at their Boston auction house, Miranda Wimplegate discovers she's accidentally sold a powerful family's prized portrait to an anonymous bidder. Desperate to appease the people who could ruin them forever, they track it to the Missouri Ozarks and make an outlandish offer to buy the local auction house and all its holdings before the painting can move again. 

Upon crossing the country, however, Miranda and her grandfather discover their new auction house doesn't deal in fine antiques, but in livestock. And its frustratingly handsome manager, Wyatt Ballentine, is annoyed to discover his fussy new bosses don't know a thing about the business he's single-handedly kept afloat. Faced with more heads of cattle than they can count--but no mysterious painting--Miranda and Wyatt form an unlikely but charged partnership to try and prevent a bad situation from getting worse.

My thoughts...At Love's Bidding was a fun read, with characters that were easy to like and a good plot. Each character had a few different sides to their character, which also gave the story more depth. 
Miranda was a girl that struggled with fear: fear of conflict and lack of safety. She was sheltered most of her life, so she was protected from her fears.  Her willingness to step out of her comfort zone into a new place with her grandfather made me like her. The aspect of her character I didn't love as much was her somewhat spoiled nature, which led to her looking down on others at times, particularly Wyatt.This conflicted with the compassion she showed towards the poor street children she helped in her town. It did help her not to be a "too good to be true" kind of heroine, though. Wyatt was raised as a rugged type, who worked with cattle and livestock. Wyatt also had another side to him as well, which you learn more about as the novel goes on.  Wyatt struggled with some stubbornness as well, but between him and Miranda, he was my favorite ; ).  

While this novel read very easily, had some great romantic moments (just wait for a great line concerning some rhubarb pie...loved it!), and had some pretty good conflict, I found it quite predictable. I'm not a big stickler about predictability, because many novels like this have a similar plot line, but before I even got halfway through I pretty much knew what was going to happen.  That kind of took some of the excitement out of the story.

Overall, I would say that this novel covers some new territory with having the heroine work at an auction house, which made it interesting.  I would recommend it for fans of Regina Jennings and those who enjoy a light Christian fiction historical romance.

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Bethany House, in exchange for an honest review.**

Monday, December 7, 2015

Reviewer's Bookshelf: Until the Dawn by Elizabeth Camden

Book summary (Goodreads): A volunteer for the newly established Weather Bureau, Sophie van Riijn needs access to the highest spot in her village to report the most accurate readings. Fascinated by Dierenpark, an abandoned mansion high atop a windswept cliff in the Hudson River Valley, Sophie knows no better option despite a lack of permission from the absent owners.

The first Vandermark to return to the area in sixty years, Quentin intends to put an end to the shadowy rumors about the property that has brought nothing but trouble upon his family. Ready to tear down the mansion, he is furious to discover a local woman has been trespassing on his land.

Instantly at odds, Quentin and Sophie find common ground when she is the only one who can reach his troubled son. There's a light within Sophie that Quentin has never known, and a small spark of the hope that left him years ago begins to grow. But when the secrets of Dierenpark and the Vandermark family history are no longer content to stay in the past, will tragedy triumph or can their tenuous hope prevail?

My thoughts...Before I read Until the Dawn, I read the prequel novella, Toward the Sunrise, that is actually a free ebook.  I typically don't love novellas, but I LOVE Elizabeth Camden so I read it.  It really helped lead into Until the Dawn and helped me understand Sophie's story a little better, as well as the story of the Vandermarks.  

I have to confess a little bias towards Elizabeth Camden.  I love her ability to tell a story.  There are often elements of mystery, her characters have a great backstory that adds a lot to the plot, and history is woven throughout her novels.  These elements and more are present in Until the Dawn.  

While Sophie isn't my favorite of Camden's leading ladies, I can appreciate that not all of her heroines are serious and intense.  Sophie represents life and light in this story, even though she struggles with hardships she's had in the past.  I loved how her ability to cook was part of the story as well.  The descriptions of her food were mouth-watering. The mysterious aspect of this story centers around the history of the Vandermarks, the generational sins that have affected them over many years, and the beauty of redemption. The clash of light and life vs darkness and death were a big theme throughout the novel.  

For me, this is another beautifully written novel by Elizabeth Camden.  I would definitely recommend it!

**I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Reviewer's Bookshelf: The Painter's Daughter by Julie Klassen

Book Summary (Goodreads): Sophie Dupont, daughter of a portrait painter, assists her father in his studio, keeping her own artwork out of sight. She often walks the cliffside path along the north Devon coast, popular with artists and poets. It's where she met the handsome Wesley Overtree, the first man to tell her she's beautiful.

Captain Stephen Overtree is accustomed to taking on his brother's neglected duties. Home on leave, he's sent to find Wesley. Knowing his brother rented a cottage from a fellow painter, he travels to Devonshire and meets Miss Dupont, the painter's daughter. He's startled to recognize her from a miniature portrait he carries with him--one of Wesley's discarded works. But his happiness plummets when he realizes Wesley has left her with child and sailed away to Italy in search of a new muse.

Wanting to do something worthwhile with his life, Stephen proposes to Sophie. He does not offer love, or even a future together, but he can save her from scandal. If he dies in battle, as he believes he will, she'll be a respectable widow with the protection of his family.

Desperate for a way to escape her predicament, Sophie agrees to marry a stranger and travel to his family's estate. But at Overtree Hall, her problems are just beginning. Will she regret marrying Captain Overtree when a repentant Wesley returns? Or will she find herself torn between the father of her child and her growing affection for the husband she barely knows?

My thoughts....I went into this book a little skeptical.  Was it your typical story or would it have that "spark"?  Let me tell you....
I loved it!

The romantic tension in this novel was fantastic!  Wesley Overtree is the guy you think you're going to hate.  Prideful, self-absorbed....but there is a point in the novel when you see some redeeming qualities that help you understand why Sophie was drawn to him.  Sophie herself was a heroine that you really wanted the best for.  Even though she made mistakes, her vulnerability made her not only believable, but a character that I hoped could know what true love really was .  And last, but not least, Stephen Overtree.  He's so driven by duty and honor, and at times can be a little frustrating, but he has a soft side as well.  Quite the love triangle!  

This is my new favorite Julie Klassen book!  There was a little bit of everything...romance for sure, mystery, tension, intense drama...and it goes on. A story very well woven together with characters I liked, even with their flaws.  It was a story that showed that even when we make mistakes, there can be redemption.  Here's a book trailer that you might enjoy as well:

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley for an honest review, which I gave.**

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Reviewer's Bookshelf: The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay

Book Summary (Goodreads): Lucy Alling makes a living selling rare books, often taking suspicious measures to reach her goals. When her unorthodox methods are discovered, Lucy's secret ruins her relationship with her boss and her boyfriend James—leaving Lucy in a heap of hurt, and trouble. Something has to change; she has to change.

In a sudden turn of events, James's wealthy grandmother Helen hires Lucy as a consultant for a London literary and antiques excursion. Lucy reluctantly agrees and soon discovers Helen holds secrets of her own. In fact, Helen understands Lucy's predicament better than anyone else.

As the two travel across England, Lucy benefits from Helen's wisdom, as Helen confronts the ghosts of her own past. Everything comes to a head at Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, where Lucy is reminded of the sisters' beloved heroines, who, with tenacity and resolution, endured—even in the midst of change.

Now Lucy must go back into her past in order to move forward. And while it may hold mistakes and regrets, she will prevail—if only she can step into the life that's been waiting for her all along.

My thoughts...Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books from the Bronte sisters.  I've seen the movie Wuthering Heights, which is written by another Bronte.  So I feel like I'm somewhat familiar with the Bronte style.  In my mind, the Bronte's write novels that have passion, angst, a little mystery and darkness to them, but also redemption.  These are the themes I was expecting to find in Katherine Reay's new novel, The Bronte Plot.

I will begin with redemption, because I believe this novel had that as it's central theme.  Lucy's story has an aspect of generational sin, passed down from her grandfather to her father, and through her relationship with James, she sees herself doing the same things her father did.  Lucy is emotionally scarred from her father's abandonment, but she wants to cover it with all the creative stories her father used to tell her.  She doesn't want to see who he really was and how he truly influenced her.  But the redemption comes as Lucy begins a journey to not only retrace some family history, but also to see that she can break the cycle.  She can "be the change" and not be controlled by the actions of generations past.  Along the way she is able to form new friendships and see her talents and that were not used to harm others but help them...and blossom into a new person.  I really appreciated this aspect of the novel and liked the growth of not just Lucy's character, but also growth of other characters that were with her on the journey.

As for the other themes that I was giddily looking forward to...the passion, angst, a little mystery and darkness...were not as present for me.  There was a little bit of mystery surrounding Lucy's history, but there wasn't a strong love story.  Lucy does have a love interest in James, but their story had very little romantic tension.  That was a little disappointing.  The overall flow of the novel was very even keel.  

**I received a free copy of this novel from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Shop With a Purpose

November is right around the corner, which means that the holidays and shopping for Christmas gifts is also upon us. In our family, I am the primary shopper for all gifts. I try to search for gifts that are really meaningful or fun for the person receiving it.  Sometimes I score big, other times not so much : ). From the beginning of our marriage and on into having kids, we've tried to keep Christmas pretty low key.  We want to celebrate the birth of Jesus and keep His birthday the focus of our holiday.  I also like the idea of doing the "want, need, wear, read" concept (one thing the kids want, one thing they need, etc) of Christmas gift giving. But this year I really felt God taking Christmas gift giving to a different level. How could I give a gift that would bless more than just me or the one receiving it?  Shopping with a gifts that would support those in need, those who are trying to support themselves after being trapped in human trafficking, supporting those who are trying to adopt a my mission this year.  And honestly, it makes gift giving SO much more exciting!! I have already bought a few things and I have also been researching so I wanted to share some different opportunities I've come across with all of you.  I hope this will inspire you to shop with a purpose this year as well!

The first thing I bought was this freedom tee from Sari Bari, a fair trade company that supports women in India who have come out of human trafficking.  This particular tshirt is on sale right now for $10.50....which is a great deal! The fabric is soft and the design looks just like the picture on the link.  I will say that I ordered my normal size and it was a little small, so you may want to order a size up.  I also love the other items you can find on the Sari Bari site...blankets, home decor items, accessories, and other tshirts.

Cluster Bag - Andrea Moore
Sari Bari is affiliated with the company Freeset, which also supports women in India who have come out of human trafficking.  I first heard about Freeset at a Mom's conference several years ago. When we registered, we received one of Freeset's beautiful burlap bags!  I still have mine and LOVE it!  They have some really beautiful bags, shirts, and other items that would make great Christmas gifts! Freeset is part of the Fair Trade Organization and their products are environmentally friendly.  I really love this company and their desire to provide an income for women and their families, but also want others to get involved and connect with this business.

noonday collection

 The Noonday Collection is another Fair Trade company that sells beautiful jewelry and accessories made by artisans from around the world.  Right now they are also having a sale (until Oct. 31st) in honor of it being Fair Trade month. I love that Noonday's purpose is to help create meaningful opportunities in a socially responsible way to people around the world.

Ornaments4Orphans.orgOrphan Sunday is coming up on November 8th, and there is a huge need to support orphans and families who want to adopt.  I didn't realize it, but the site Ornaments 4 Orphans is having a free shipping special if you spend $75 or more in honor of it being Fair Trade month!  They have some really nice ornaments that would look great on your tree, but it would also represent something very special.

Show Hope is an organization dedicated to support orphans and families who want to adopt.  Steven Curtis Chapman, who is a Christian music artist, and his wife, Mary Beth, are the founders of this organization.  Here's a video that shares their heart and tells how Show Hope was founded:
The different items in the Show Hope store go towards benefiting orphans.  What a great ministry!

147 Million Orphans147 Million Orphans was created to provide the critical needs of children impacted by the orphan crisis and living in poverty. Founded in 2009 by Gwen Oatsvall and Suzanne Mayernick, 147 Million Orphans provides food, water, medicine and shelter in the name of Jesus Christ. The name of our company invokes discussion and brings awareness to the worldwide orphan crisis. Provision begins with the vulnerable child , but we also work to preserve families through sustainable income projects and community reconstruction. This support is critical to break the ongoing orphan crisis cycle.  You can shop in their store and support this ministry to orphans! Right now all orders of $50 or more will have free shipping.

There is also a private Facebook shopping group called "Shop With a Purpose" that you can be added to.  Families are able to post their various fundraisers on the site so that those who want to support their adoptions can do so.  I have also bought something from one of these families.  It's SO neat to know that my small purchase will go towards bringing a child to their forever family!  Just go to the page if you're interested and request approval. Here is the charm bracelet I bought for just $5 that will support an adoption! 

I would love to hear of any other opportunities to support Fair Trade, orphans, or adoptions!  Put your links or info in the comments.  Thanks so much and hope you feel led to shop with a purpose this year!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Reviewer's Bookshelf: Fire and Ice by Mary Connealy

Book Summary (Goodreads): Bailey Wilde is one of the best new ranchers in the West. She's been living disguised as a man for a while, but when Gage Coulter comes to drive her off her homestead, he quickly realizes he's dealing with a woman--a very tough, very intriguing woman at that.

Gage is an honest man, but he didn't make his fortune being weak. He won't break the law, but he'll push as hard as he can within it. Five thousand acres of his best range land is lost to him because Bailey's homestead is located right across the only suitable entrance to a canyon full of lush grass. Gage has to regain access to his land--and he's got to go through Bailey to do it.

Spending a winter alone has a way of making a person crave some human contact. In a moment of weakness, Bailey agrees to a wild plan Gage concocts. Can these two independent, life-toughened homesteaders loosen up enough to earn each other's respect--and maybe find love in
the process?

My thoughts...This third book in the Tried and True series by Mary Connealy goes out with a bang! The setting, characters, and a plot that brings it all together made a perfect action packed conclusion.

Bailey Wilde, in my mind, is the toughest of the three Wilde sisters. She's also a Civil War veteran, but even before she went off to war she was protecting her sisters from their father's hateful tirades. I was interested to know what the shadows were in Bailey's past and how they would be brought into the light. The story revealed her vulnerable side and through her interaction with Gage, she softened and was, for once, being protected instead of being the one that had to always do the protecting.

Gage was "ice" and Bailey was "fire" you can only imagine the fantastic tension that was going on between these two!  Lots of sassiness, stubborness, and a good dose of romance rounded out the fast-moving plot. Throw in a mysterious bad guy with some dangerous traps set up for Gage and you've got a little bit of everything.  I couldn't put it down!

I would highly recommend all three books in the Tried and True series!

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.**

Friday, October 16, 2015

Reviewer's Bookshelf: A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter

Book Summary (Goodreads): Lady Miranda Hawthorne acts every inch the lady, but inside she longs to be bold and carefree. Entering her fourth Season and approaching spinsterhood in the eyes of society, she pours her innermost feelings out not in a diary but in letters to her brother's old school friend, a duke--with no intention of ever sending these private thoughts to a man she's heard stories about but never met. Meanwhile, she also finds herself intrigued by Marcus, her brother's new valet, and although she may wish to break free of the strictures that bind her, falling in love with a servant is more of a rebellion than she planned.

When Marcus accidentally discovers and mails one of the letters to her unwitting confidant, Miranda is beyond mortified. And even more shocked when the duke returns her note with one of his own that initiates a courtship-by-mail. Insecurity about her lack of suitors shifts into confusion at her growing feelings for two men--one she's never met but whose words deeply resonate with her heart, and one she has come to depend on but whose behavior is more and more suspicious. When it becomes apparent state secrets are at risk and Marcus is right in the thick of the conflict, one thing is certain: Miranda's heart is far from all that's at risk for the Hawthornes and those they love.

My thoughts... This is the first novel of Kristi Ann Hunter's that I've read, and from the book description I was eager to try it out.  I was intrigued by the idea of a girl writing letters like someone she knew was real but had never actually met.  I enjoyed the journey Lady Miranda went on.

It's hard to say a lot about the plot without giving anything away, but I will say that I loved the way this story had a little bit of everything in it!  You have a little bit of mystery, humor, and of course, some clean romance.  It also had the upstairs/downstairs aspect as Miranda found herself drawn to her brother's valet.  The pace was great....never a dull moment.  I would definitely recommend this new author!

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.**

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Reviewer's Bookshelf: The Lost Heiress by Rosanna M. White

Book Summary....Brook Eden has never known where she truly belongs. Though raised in the palace of Monaco, she’s British by birth and was brought to the Grimaldis under suspicious circumstances as a babe. When Brook’s friend Justin uncovers the fact that Brook is likely a missing heiress from Yorkshire, Brook leaves the sun of the Mediterranean to travel to the moors of the North Sea to the estate of her supposed family.
The mystery of her mother’s death haunts her, and though her father is quick to accept her, the rest of the family and the servants of Whitby Park are not. Only when Brook’s life is threatened do they draw close—but their loyalty may come too late to save Brook from the same threat that led to tragedy for her mother.
As heir to a dukedom, Justin is no stranger to balancing responsibilities. When the matters of his estate force him far from Brook, the distance between them reveals that what began as friendship has grown into something much more. But how can their very different loyalties and responsibilities ever come together?
And then, for a second time, the heiress of Whitby Park is stolen away because of the very rare treasure in her possession—and this time only the servants of Whitby can save her.

My thoughts.... There are several things I enjoyed about this book.  I'll start at the cover....beautiful!  After I finished the book I went back, looked at it again, and appreciated it even more as it truly captures the look of the heroine in the story.

Brook's story was filled with intrigue, danger, and love.  Her beginnings in Monaco made her an interesting character.  She could speak multiple languages, which just enough of was present (and it was translated in the flow of the story), loved to take risks, and was tough but still had femininity.  Her life story was a mystery that I eagerly wanted to know the answer to.  I also enjoyed the relationship she had with Justin.  They had a friendship that was fun to read and as their relationship changed and developed, the romantic tension increased.

There was plenty of action and suspense for a historical fiction.  There were some intense scenes between Brook and an evil henchman, as well as between her and the villain. Those moments definitely put some excitement into the story.

As you can tell, I really enjoyed this story!  My only hesitations in giving it an over the top rating is that, as I have read some of White's previous books, I was expecting a little more romantic tension in the relationship between Justin and Brook.  There were other aspects of the plot that were also predictable.  

Happy reading!

**I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher in order to give an honest review.**

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Reviewer's Bookshelf: The Memory Weaver by Jane Kirkpatrick

Book Summary (Goodreads): Eliza Spalding Warren was just a child when she was taken hostage by the Cayuse Indians during a massacre in 1847. Now the young mother of two children, Eliza faces a different kind of dislocation; her impulsive husband wants them to make a new start in another territory, which will mean leaving her beloved home and her departed mother's grave--and returning to the land of her captivity. Eliza longs to know how her mother, an early missionary to the Nez Perce Indians, dealt with the challenges of life with a sometimes difficult husband and with her daughter's captivity.

When Eliza is finally given her mother's diary, she is stunned to find that her own memories are not necessarily the whole story of what happened. Can she lay the dark past to rest and move on? Or will her childhood memories always hold her hostage?

Based on true events, The Memory Weaver is New York Times bestselling author Jane Kirkpatrick's latest literary journey into the past, where threads of western landscapes, family, and faith weave a tapestry of hope inside every pioneering woman's heart. Readers will find themselves swept up in this emotional story of the memories that entangle us and the healing that awaits us when we bravely unravel the threads of the past.

My thoughts...The beautiful cover of this novel was what initially made me interested in seeing what the story was all about.  Stories that include Native American interaction intrigue me as well, so that sealed the deal.  What I found as I read was an interesting, biographical journey of Eliza Spalding Warren.  This is not my typical style of book, but I was able to appreciate Eliza's physical, emotional, and spiritual journey that was detailed in this story.

This novel is not your typical Christian fiction, in that it really does read more biographically, and it was based on the true story of the Spalding and Warren families, along with other families who went out west as missionaries.  Only a few of the details and letters were fictionalized.  While there were some moments of intensity, it didn't have that rising action and falling action, that includes a building up of tension and climax, that most fictional stories have.  There was very little romantic tension between Eliza and Andrew.  I felt the loss of some much anticipated action.

On the other hand, the writing style did let you see inside all of the struggles and thoughts of Eliza.  She had endured much in her life, from the time she was a child until she was an adult.  I honestly had tears in my eyes as she faced the demons of her past and felt peace.  That aspect of the plot was written excellently.  

When I finished this book, my impression was that it was well written, and I loved the resolution that the main character experienced.  The places and people were very well researched, and it showed in the writing...but not in a way that I felt overwhelmed by text that was way too wordy.  If you like historical fiction that reads a lot like a biography, you'll love this book.

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.**

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Classical Conversations Cycle 1, Week 5

I didn't post last week...but my poor little kiddos didn't get a day off for Labor Day so we were going strong.  We were also dealing with a bad bug bite (little man is allergic), so posting just didn't happen.  Our plan for this school year is to go about 6 weeks and then take a week off to recharge, go on field trips, and gear up for another 6 weeks.  I think this will really help with burnout...which I had a struggle with last year.  I still haven't looked at where the free weeks will fall, but the plan is to hit our time off at the normal holidays.

So I'm just going to briefly put a few links up here that I've found.  Hope they help you this week!

History: split of the Roman Empire
*Love this cute idea from CCing It One Day At A Time...a thumb print display of the history sentence. I think mine will like this!
*We also have two Usborn books that'll be helpful....Romans and History of the Ancient Empires.  I'm sure we'll get some background from there.
*This is a cute site called Sir Dig-A-Lot that gives a brief synopsis of the Pax Romana

Geography: Egyptian Empire
* Love these geography cards...also from CCing It One Day At A Time
*These ancient Egypt coloring sheets are perfect!
*Free Great Pyramid model printable that can be found in this Discovering Ancient Egypt set

Science: invertebrates
We LOVE Brain Pop Jr.  Go here and click on the "Classifying Animals" movie.  We watched it earlier in the school year, but it does a great job explaining invertebrates. : )

Hope you have a great week!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Reviewer's Bookshelf: Chivalrous by Dina Sleiman

Book Summary: Strong and adventurous Gwendolyn Barnes longs to be a knight like her chivalrous brothers. However, that is not an option for her, not even in the Arthurian-inspired Eden where she dwells. Her parents view her only as a marriage pawn, and her domineering father is determined to see her wed to a brutish man who will break her spirit.

When handsome, good-hearted Allen of Ellsworth arrives in Edendale searching for his place in the world, Gwendolyn spies in him the sort of fellow she could imagine marrying. Yet fate seems determined to keep them apart. Tournaments, intrigue, and battles--along with twists and turns aplenty--await these two as they struggle to find love, identity, and their true destinies.

My thoughts...I enjoyed Dauntless, the first book in this series, so I had high expectations for Chivalrous.  This book is one of several Young Adult/teen books that I've read with a medieval setting.  I have thoroughly enjoyed most of the ones I've read and often tried to read the book with my daughter in mind.  She's not quite old enough to read this level of book (she's only 8), but down the road I'll be looking for books that are appropriate and entertaining for her.

There were several parts in this book that I enjoyed.  There was a joust scene in the beginning of the novel that I found especially exciting, filled with tension.  It was definitely a highlight in the book.  I also enjoyed the interaction Gwendolyn had with Allen.  I admired both for their perseverance despite the hardships they endured.  Allen was a gentleman as well as a courageous knight, which made him a character I rooted for. While there were a few parts that Gwendolyn's way of talking was a little modern for me,  I'm sure it would be hard for many teen readers to relate  to a lot of formal medieval language.  

My expectation was that most of the book would be about Gwendolyn and her efforts to fight like a knight without anyone knowing.  I was a little disappointed in the lack of scenes with Gwendolyn actually doing this.  It didn't really seem like the focal point of this book.  It was more about her efforts to avoid a marriage she didn't want, overcoming the abuse of her cruel father, and spending time with Allen.  All of those helped contribute to the plot, but weren't really what I was expecting.  The main aspect of the story that I really had a problem with was a side plot with Gwendolyn's servant.  The point of view shifted throughout the story from Gwendolyn to her servant, Rosalind, so there was a significant part of the story that involved her.  This kind of threw me off a little because there wasn't even a hint of this from the book summary, but I rolled with it.  Then Rosalind's story got darker more intense, and involved **possible spoiler?** premarital sex, abortion, and severe rejection.  Then Rosalind just drops out of the story and I was left disappointed and confused.  Such an intense side plot is just left without closure and honestly, I felt like it took away from any happiness and resolution that was given to the other characters at the end.  All I could think about was the despair Rosalind was going through and how I would feel if my teen was reading all of this.  This is a real issue with a lot of teens, but it wasn't really addressed appropriately in this book, in my opinion.  

Chivalrous has a lot of potential.  For an adult, many of the heavy themes may not seem so heavy.  If I'm going to be consistent, though, in reviewing this book in light of it being written for a Young Adult/teen audience, I would say that the Gwendolyn/Allen parts are the best....the side plot of Rosalind felt out of place for me and I didn't come away with closure or redemption for the characters involved.

**I was given a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, which I gave.**

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Moving right along to Classical Conversations Cycle 1, week 3

I'm not gonna lie....I'm beat!  So I'm going to post what I can and move on to a *hopefully* earlier bedtime.  : )  Hope this will help some of you out!

Let me start with this little gem on the page Homeschooling with a Classical Twist.  She's got some great Cycle 1 resources that you can print.  I LOVE the review pages!  A great way to start out the week! She's also got resources for the other cycles and Essentials.  I love these families who are so willing to devote their time, energy, and resources to provide some free printables to share.  What a blessing!

Science: parts of an animal cell
This blog post has a fun idea about how to make an animal cell.  She also has several other good Cycle 1 resources.
*Another edible cell activity that shows a plant and animal cell.

*This post at Homeschool with Winnie basically give you a complete set of resources for all of the subjects.  Thank you!

History: Greek/Roman gods
*We're going to color the sheet I printed from the link I posted above from Homeschooling with a Classical Twist.  I have a couple of Usborne books that we can look at (Encyclopedia of Ancient History; Romans; Greeks) and get some info from there.  Plus the link at Homeschool with Winnie gives a great explanation of each Greek god.

Latin: 1st Declension Noun Endings
*listen to the memory work and refer to the pages I printed from the Classical Twist link.

Geography: Hebrew Empire
Look at the places on the map and refer to our Encyclopedia that includes maps and info.  We could refer to stories in the Bible as well as some pictures and items that my hubby brought back from his trip to Israel.

Math: skip counting 5 and 6
*Use nickels to count by 5's
*Homeschool with Winnie link above has some videos that show skip counting for each number.

English: Prepositions
*Winnie has a video for this on her post as well : )

Hope you guys have a great week!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Reviewer's Bookshelf: The Mistress of Tall Acre by Laura Frantz

Book Summary (from Goodreads): The American Revolution is finally over, and Sophie Menzies is starved for good news. When her nearest neighbor, General Seamus Ogilvy, finally comes home to Tall Acre, she hopes it is a sign of better days to come. But the general is now a widower with a small daughter in desperate need of a mother. Nearly destitute, Sophie agrees to marry Seamus and become the mistress of Tall Acre in what seems a safe, sensible arrangement. But when a woman from the general's past returns without warning, the ties that bind this fledgling family together will be strained to the utmost. When all is said and done, who will be the rightful mistress of Tall Acre?

Triumph and tragedy, loyalty and betrayal--readers find it all in the rich pages of this newest historical novel from the talented pen of Laura Frantz. Her careful historical details immerse the reader in the story world, and her emotional writing and finely tuned characters never cease to enchant fans both old and new.

My thoughts....Once again, Laura Frantz has captured my heart and undivided attention with her newest novel, The Mistress of Tall Acre.  With each of Frantz' other books, once I started, I couldn't put it down. Let's just say a day later when I finished it, I was disappointed that I was done.  I wanted more!  

Frantz has a way of drawing you into a story through the setting and characters.  Her use of detail makes you feel like you've stepped through the pages of the book and back in time.  When an author can use the language of the time period without taking away from the flow of the just makes it even better.  It felt natural to be drawn in to Sophie's world, step through the rooms of her broken down estate, and experience her heartfelt emotions.  

Another strength of Frantz  is her ability to create romantic tension.  Wow.  You know that feeling...when your heart and stomach are fluttering like crazy when two characters are trying to figure out how they feel about each other.  Oh've got that in this book!  Both Sophie and Seamus had their reasons for being uninterested in any romantic attachments.  The internal and external conflicts between them were fantastically written...and done in a very clean and appropriate way.  It takes skill to create that level of tension.  

I think I want to read this book  : )  If you're reading this...go get it.  Historical Christian fiction at its finest!
**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review...which I gave.**

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Classical Conversations Cycle 1, Week 2

Sunday afternoons are turning into my homeschool planning days, so I'd love to share with you a few things we're doing for Cycle 1, Week 2 in our Classical Conversations curriculum.

Latin: I saved the cards we used for Cycle 1 when we did it a couple of years ago and they still look great!  I was just going over to the blog Suzanne Shares to find them...and boom...she has a brand new blog post with all the Latin card printables in one spot!  Click here to get these great free printables!

Geography: I'm loving our newest Usborne book, along with another Usborne book we bought about 6 years ago, to look at some of the places in our memory work.  In the picture atlas, the kids love the flaps and different illustrations on each page.  There are some specifics that I'm not able to find as well, so for more detailed areas on the map I refer to the Encyclopedia of World Geography.  It's filled with lots of maps and information from basically every part of the world!  Lots of very interesting info!

Science: We're going to use the animal cards I printed last week along with watching another Baby Einstein video about animal habitats.  Yes, my kids are a little old for Baby Einstein, but they liked the real life animal pictures we saw on another video last week and the one we'll watch this week categorizes them as well.

History:  In years past I haven't tested the kids on CC material, but I thought this year we would try a weekly evaluation on each history sentence.  I really want this info to stick!  This week we will wrap up learning the 10 commandments.  The Go Fish Guys singing group also has a fun song about the 10 commandments that we've also been listening to.

Timeline: I didn't do so well last year with the Timeline stuff, but I'm trying to at least hit on a few of the Timeline aspects one day/week.  We're also listening to the Timeline song more often.  I think the Timeline song is fantastic and definitely one that I hope sticks in my kids' memory!  I'm using some other Usborne books that bought just to hit a few highlights, but the main one is the Encyclopedia of the Ancient World. It has A LOT of information, so I pick and choose little segments to share with the kids.  I find it fascinating.  They're kind of in and out at this age, but if they remember a little bit I'm happy : ).  Keeping it real.

Hope you all have a great week!!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Reviewer's Bookshelf: The Golden Braid by Melanie Dickerson

Book Summary: Rapunzel can throw a knife better than any man around. And her skills as an artist rival those of any artist she’s met. But for a woman in medieval times, the one skill she most desires is the hardest one to obtain: the ability to read.

After yet another young man asks for Rapunzel’s hand in marriage, Mother decides they need to move once again, but this time to a larger city. Rapunzel’s heart soars—surely there she can fulfill her dream. But Mother won’t let her close to a man. She claims that no man can be trusted.

After being rescued by a knight on the road to the city, and in turn rescuing him farther down the road, Rapunzel’s opportunity arrives at last. This knight, Sir Gerek, agrees to educate Rapunzel in order to pay back his debt. She just has to put up with his arrogant nature and single-minded focus on riches and prestige.

But this Rapunzel story is unlike any other and the mystery that she uncovers will change everything—except her happily ever after.

My thoughts....It's sometimes hard to remember that the fairy tale retellings Melanie Dickerson has written, including The Golden Braid, are Young Adult novels...because I enjoy them so much!  This is Dickerson's 6th fairy tale retelling and I have read each one.  I love the concept as well as the way Dickerson has taken these stories and woven in elements of faith, adventure, and clean romance.  While this novel could be read as a stand alone, it does have connections with some of the characters and events in the previous novels.  I would especially recommend reading The Princess Spy as there are some neat connections from that story to this one.

From the beginning of The Golden Braid, there were moments of action, mystery, and some romantic tension.  Rapunzel herself has a pure, innocent nature, but she is also driven to learn.  When she's unable to learn to read in her early life, she spends her time learning all that she can....knife throwing, painting, and whatever else anyone can teach her.  The combination of these aspects of her character make her interesting and fun to read.  The trials she goes through, the tests of her character, also make her stand out as well-rounded character.  Rapunzel also tries to honor her "mother" and respect her even as she is betrayed and mistreated by her.  As a mom of a young daughter, this is the type of character I want her reading: young women who are creative, have compassion for others, yet stand strong in their faith and convictions. I wish I would've had books like this as a young person.

Sir Gerek is a knight.  He's brave and handsome, but could also be prideful, arrogant, and greedy.  In many ways your typical male hero, but as the story went on, he experienced growth and transformation.  He had to face some of the struggles he had in his past and was humbled through dealing with an injury.  He most certainly had his flaws and clung to the idea that he had to control his circumstances instead of letting God have control, but by the end of the novel Sir Gerek truly became an admirable hero.  

This novel had a satisfying balance. There was a clean romance element, but some psychological tension, suspense, and adventure. I also liked that I saw a background perspective of some of the events that happened in The Princess Spy.  Overall, I think this is a great novel for all readers.  I would definitely recommend it and enjoyed it as one of my favorites from Melanie Dickerson!

**I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher in order to give an unbiased review**

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Gearing up for homeschooling year #6! Cycle 1, week 1!

I don't think it really feels like we've been doing this 6 years already.  I started doing some activities with my daughter when she was three.  I had a little girl her age over, too, and we would have "school" during the week while the little girl's mom would keep my one year old.  Now my girl is going into 3rd grade and that one year old is now starting first grade!  Eeek!  The time is really flying.  Even though I haven't been the most creative, motivated, organized homeschool Momma (trust see a lot of the highlight reel on here), I've really tried to make these years as fun and memorable for my kids that I can.  I don't want to take any moments we have together for granted.  Who knows what next year, next month, or next week will hold.  I'm always open to what we feel like God is leading us to do with this homeschool journey.  If He directs us to school in the future, I want to trust that He knows best.  But until then, homeschooling is the journey we feel God has led us on and I want to make the most of it. The part I love the most is just getting to do fun things with my kids and see them grow in their love for each other. Fun is always a big part of my educational philosophy.  They are kids. I want them to be kids and be free from the pressures of life as long as I can...because good grief, we have enough of that as adults!  : )  With that is what we are planning to do this year!

Bible: I actually bought a Bible curriculum this year.  As I'm planning out our week I'm really loving it!  We're doing Apologia's What We Believe series that begins with "Who Is God?".  I also bought the junior notebooking journal to go along with it.  I think it's right on target for my kids and I hope we really enjoy using it this year.

Classical Conversations: We've done Cycles 1, 2, and 3 already!  Yay!  So now we're going to start back over and do them all over again.  And honestly, the first year I did CC I really didn't know what I was doing.  We also came into the year late so we had a lot of catching up to I had a newborn and cancer that year.  Yikes.  So I'm looking forward to seeing all that we're going to learn this year!  I bought some Usborne books to supplement what we're learning.  Here are some suggestions:

*I also traveled back over to Half-a-Hundred Acre Wood's blog for some ideas. Great resource. I'm honestly amazed at the organization and amount of info.
*Here's a helpful post with Cycle 1 Resources by Sola Gratia Mom
*And one of my favorite bloggers, Melody Stroud at And Here We Go!....her Cycle 1 Week 1 post.
Classical Conversations will be our Science and Social Studies for the year as I plan to do expansion activities with the weekly CC memory work.

Math: We've been doing Math U See since my daughter was in first we're sticking with what works! : )  My son will now start doing it this year.

Grammar: We've also been doing Shurley Grammar for a few years and I really like it.  We didn't finish Level 2 last year, so we're going to continue that this year with my third grader and start Level 1 with my first grader.

Spelling: I've really liked this free spelling curriculum the past couple of years.  I was kind of thinking about switching to something a little harder for my third grader, but honestly this has worked so well for her, why change?  The first grade list has printable activities for every day of the week, which I really like.  The third grade list just has one printable per week, but it works.  I really like free stuff ; ).

Reading: I'm really going to try to do better about doing read alouds with the kids.  A friend sent me a couple of unit studies that you can do with some children's chapter books, so that was motivating.  We're going to start with Caddie Woodlawn, but I have some others I would really like to read with the kids.  Here were a few of my favorites when I've taught in the past:
Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson
A Cricket in Times Square
The Westing Game
Little House in the Big Woods
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Cheaper by the Dozen
...and lots more.  Big plans here : ). I also have Abeka readers and some old reading comprehension activities that I plan to do with my third grader to build her fluency.
I have some phonics videos and phonics charts that I plan to do with my first grader to reinforce what he learned last year.

Handwriting: I really want my kids to have neat handwriting!  I've been using Handwriting Without Tears since both kids were in Kindergarten and we have all loved it.  They have been really self-motivated to do well with it and I've been pleased at the progress.  The curriculum is also very affordable and will last the whole year.

I hope you all have a great school year!  I'm off to do more prep for tomorrow.  Leave it to me to save a lot until the last minute ; ).

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Reviewer's Bookshelf: For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatmaker

Book Summary (from Goodreads): 
The popular writer, blogger, and television personality reveals with humor and style how Jesus' extravagant grace is the key to dealing with life's biggest challenge: people.

The majority of our joys, struggles, thrills, and heartbreaks relate to people, beginning first with ourselves and then the people we came from, married, birthed, live by, live for, go to church with, don't like, don't understand, fear, struggle with, compare ourselves to, and judge. People are the best and worst thing about the human life.

Jen Hatmaker knows this all too well, and so she reveals how to practice kindness, grace, truthfulness, vision, and love to ourselves and those around us. By doing this, For the Love leads our generation to reimagine Jesus' grace as a way of life, and it does it in a funny yet profound manner that Christian readers will love. Along the way, Hatmaker shows readers how to reclaim their prophetic voices and become Good News again to a hurting, polarized world.

My thoughts....
This might sound kinda bad, but I honestly don't read a lot of Christian non-fiction.  There are some amazing authors out there, pouring out some profound truth....but reading is typically my escape into another time, place, and with fictional heros and heroines. But I am SO glad I was able to get my hands on a copy of this book!

I've followed Jen Hatmaker's Facebook posts for a little while, so I was developing a love for her humor and honesty.  I gravitate towards a public figure who can relate to the struggle of being a wife, mom, and Christian woman in this world.  Jen has become like a sanity-whisperer in the otherwise insane days of my pastor-wife, three "spicy" kids, stay-at-home mom life. Not that I always agreed on every stance she's taken or comment she's made.  But I could appreciate her heart and her desire to love God and others.  So...I wanted to read her book and see a little deeper into her heart.

I was not disappointed ; ).  This book not only held my attention (I can tend to fade out when my book choice is a little too heavy), but she had me laughing, crying, and thinking.  I loved that she balanced out the chapters of deeper thought and challenge with laugh out loud humor in the next chapter.  I have SO many things highlighted in this book.  Here's a little taste:

                                                                                            "You don't need to wait another day to figure out your calling.  You're living it, dear one. Your gifts have a place right now, in the job you have, in your stage of life, with the people who surround you. Calling is virtually never big or famous work; that is rarely the way the kingdom comes.

It shows up quietly, subversively, almost invisibly. Half the time, it is unplanned--just the stuff of life in which a precious human steps in, the good news personified."
So relevant to me right now, as were so many of the words in this book. 
 It spoke to me in ways that touch on notes of longing and loneliness.  I want to have a supper club!  And supper club friends that I can share lots of private jokes with and go on family vacations with (people actually do that?!).  But as I read and wished I were part of Jen and company's group, I wasn't left with just longing.  I was left with a challenge that if I want change, then I need to be an instrument of change.  Hmmm....supper club anyone ; )?

I would definitely say this is geared towards the female reader.'s a great read.  It covers yoga pants and building your marriage. It includes recipes and food for the soul.  I always offer this disclaimer, and I believe Jen would, too.  Don't just take her words as the ultimate truth.  Always seek God and His Word as the bottom line.
Happy reading!

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, which I gave.**

Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Trip to Remember

  From July 16-27th, my husband and I, along with several other students and adults from our hometown of Eastman, GA, were able to embark on a journey.  We got on a plane bound for Central Asia, making a short layover in Paris along the way.  I will try to put into words what this trip meant for my husband and I in particular, but it's going to be difficult.  There are so many people we met that will change us forever, so many moments that God showed His hand and's hard to put it all into words.  My hope is that this will give you a glimpse into a little window of our lives and inspire you to go or send others, but most of all, pray to the Lord of the harvest that He will send workers and a great revival will come about.

After a 7 hour or so flight from Atlanta to Paris, we had an intentional long layover so we would have time to explore the city before our next flight.  This was a dream come true for me!  I had studied French in high school, so many of the sites that we were about to visit had been on my radar for quite a while.  I particularly wanted to see the Eiffel Tower.  I couldn't have been a more perfect day in Paris.  The sun was shining, but there was a nice breeze blowing to make all of our moving around the city bearable.  The tower was breathtaking...definitely living up to my expectations! : ) Due to our very limited time, we were only able to look at it from the outside and weren't able to go up.  I guess we'll have to save that for another day!  We took several metro stops ahead, stopping at the Arch de Triumph, Notre Dame, and a palace along the way...we were moving fast so we weren't able to get any pics of the inside.  But I was definitely a happy girl to even get a little taste of Paris.

Next stop...Istanbul, Turkey.  Many of you know our story about why Turkey is a special place in our hearts, but here's a little overview.  Basically last year our family, minus Seth, went on a family trip to Baltimore, MD.  Our last night there Joe took the kids for a swim.  At the pool there was a lifeguard, a young man who was 19 years old, from Turkey.  Joe had a short conversation with him, but an impression was made.  Enough for us to seek him out the next morning and pass him a booklet with Joe's contact information on the back.  Before we made it back to Georgia, our new friend was texting my husband.  This began our journey and connection with Turkey.  Our new friend ended up coming to visit us his last week in the states, and that sealed the deal.  This guy was like part of our family.  There was a connection made that crossed cultural and religious barriers.  Over the course of the year, while he was back home and at college, we stayed in touch.  He introduced us to his family members and friends as his "American family."  At the end of last year we learned that there would be a group trip to Turkey scheduled for 2015 and we immediately wanted to go.  No doubt. Thanks to many friends and family, the means to be on this trip were provided.  Our hearts were already in love with this country, and the people in it, before we arrived.

Our first day in Istanbul we were put into groups and given an "Amazing Race" challenge.  We had to navigate around the city, which included crossing, by ferry, from the Asian side of Turkey to the European side.  We had to get lunch for ourselves, find a place to exchange money, perform tasks like buy and drink one of Turkey's popular beverages that tasted like sour milk, and eat some Turkish delight.  I have to admit, I was a little nervous as I have no sense of direction, but thankfully Joe and some of the others in our group led us in the right direction!  We saw some amazing places and it was also a great way to build our confidence in getting around the city.  Our final meeting up place was at Sultanamet, an area of town that has the impressive Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia, another religious building. We were later able to tour the inside of the Aya Sofia.  It was amazing.

The Aya Sofia is such an interesting contrast to me.  It was built during the Byzantine Empire as a place to worship and honor the Christian God.  There is artwork, mosaics, and paintings that depict the cross, angels, Jesus, and other people in the Bible.  When the land was conquered by the Turks, the Arabic script was added in several places in the building. You can easily see the large, round discs that were mounted on the side of the main room.  We were told that Muslim art does not include pictures, but just fancy Arabic script from the Koran.  Just as the Aya Sofia represents this religious contrast, so does other places in this country.  All seven of the churches spoken of in the book of Revelation are all located in Turkey.  There were also various missionary journeys taken by Paul in the New Testament, one of which was located in Troas, which is known as Alexandra-Troas in Turkey.  We were actually able to visit this area of the country.

These are some of the ruins at Troas. This stone arch was actually built after the time of Paul, but it is still the area where he was. We drove quite a distance to reach this part of Turkey.  As we drove up, there were no big signs that said, "Here is where Paul was!" We didn't expect that, but it gave us the opportunity to share to some of our Turkish friends why this area was significant to us.  Even though it was only about an hour and a half away from their hometown, they had never been here or heard the story about it.  The ruins were just off the side of the fences or museums.  We were able to explore all around.

Across the road from this archway was an area that students from the University of Ankara were excavating.  This was really neat.  They gave us 15 minutes to go into the area before they closed it up.  The picture on the right was one of the pieces they have uncovered and had put in a big cage to protect from looters.  There were several ornate pieces like this one.  The view from the area was amazing.  It was the first time I was able to go to a place that those in the Bible had walked and visited.  My love of history and social studies combined with my love of God's Word was at a peak that day.

Another fun place we were able to visit was the ancient city of Troy and the ruins there.  Our Turkish friends called it Truva.  This is not the original wooden horse that was used in the story of Troy, but it was definitely a fun replica that we were able to climb inside of.  Here is our group posed in front.  Definitely a good time of fellowship with friends.

A big part of our trip was spent helping those who have been displaced from their home countries due to a variety of circumstances, often by war or because of their religious beliefs.  By helping, I mean we were able to spend time with them, love on them, and even do some English classes.  Some of these children are living in a place that is not their home, they are not able to go to school, and it's even hard for them to know how to communicate.  It was a privilege to be able to push them on the swings, watch them swim in the sea, and play games with them.  They are so smart, hungry for knowledge, and would listen and participate attentively as we were studying in a local park outside under a tree.  If this doesn't offer perspective, I'm not sure what will.  We are so very blessed in our country to have what we do.  We take so much for granted.

For about three days of our trip we were also able to do a youth conference.  This was another great opportunity to minister to a different group of young people (also from another country who were living in Turkey) who have a heart for God and want to learn, along with us, more about Him.  I love that we could hear songs of worship in their language and through translators see our God span cultural and language differences.  He is a God of the nations.  This conference opened my eyes as well.  God is at work in places that we don't even realize.  While we are led to believe that people in some of these countries want to destroy us, God is working behind the scenes to give people life.  I am so glad that He used this time to open my eyes to see what He is truly doing and give me a love for new brothers and sisters in Christ that I may never have met.

And one of the highlights of our trip!  Seeing our dear friend, Tunc (pronounced Toonch), again and meeting his girlfriend (Pinar), sister (Simge--pronounced Sim-yay), and mother.  This picture was taken soon after we met up and there was lots of love going around. I couldn't give them big enough heart was bursting.  We had a wonderful two days in their hometown of Canakkale, a beautiful city surrounded by water.  It was very windy there, which gave us the consistent windblown look ; ).  Tunc's family was so hospitable, providing us with a delicious meal cooked by Simge and a nice place to spend the night.  I wish we would've had more time with them, but I'm grateful for the time we had.  Our hope is that this is just the beginning of a beautiful relationship between all of us.  I'm thankful for technology and the ability to stay in touch with them to send them our love from a distance.  I'm hopeful that we will be able to see each other again in the future.

So that's our trip in a nutshell!  I would love to share more details with any of you who are interested in more specific information.  Just contact me personally so we can chat : ).  We thoroughly enjoyed our time and we saw many people, places, and things that will impact us for a lifetime.  Continue to pray for this part of the world and the people who live there.  God bless!