Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"To Win Her Heart" Review

When Levi Grant arrives in Spencer, Texas, he’s looking for more than just a blacksmith job – he wants the chance at a new life. Even though he served his time for the unintentional crime that he committed, he prefers to start over in a place where no one knows about his past.

Almost immediately after arriving in Spencer, Levi meets Eden, the daughter of the town’s founder. A self-appointed librarian spinster, Eden is stunned when the hulking Levi walks through her door to borrow a book. And she is even more stunned when she realizes how much she is attracted to him.

As the two form an unlikely friendship, Levi realizes he won’t be able to hide his past forever. But will Eden be able to look at him the same way when she discovers his violent history?

I have only read one other book by Karen Witemeyer (A Tailor-Made Bride), but I really enjoyed it. I actually enjoyed that one so much that this book, To Win Her Heart, had a lot to live up to.

And did it ever.

This novel has everything that I love about Christian historical fiction. The writing has an easy flow that lets you experience the novel rather than just read it. The characters are likeable and relatable but not perfect. When they have problems or issues in their lives, they turn to the Bible for the answers and for comfort and peace. They actually talk to God as if they have a relationship with Him (not just superficial), and they experience significant spiritual growth over the course of the novel. I also appreciate when a Christian novel has an overall feeling of hope and joy, even when things are rough, and in this book, that came through loud and clear.

After a little bit of a slow start, the story took off and even went in directions I wasn’t expecting. It’s always a difficult balance between whether or not a book is starting off too slowly or if it is just giving you the time to get to know the characters well. I like to have a lot of background on the main characters and to really be able to settle in to the setting and the initial plot. But, sometimes this also seems to slow down the first quarter or so of a book. That being said, I do think the author is very talented in the way that she tells the main story along with all of these little stories around it that end up coming together. This makes for an overall narrative that just sweeps you along and helps you to really experience the characters and their situations.

As I said earlier, spiritually, this novel really delivered. The main characters are already Christians at the start of the novel, but they both have things that God is working on in their lives. The faith portion of the novel is seamlessly woven into the story, which is so refreshing. The characters’ faith is real, and the themes of granting forgiveness and extending grace are shown with marvelous clarity. They want to live their lives for Christ no matter the cost. This is very much displayed at several points toward the end of the novel, but I really don’t want to mention them here – it would take too much away from others’ enjoyment of the book.

If I had to be nit-picky about this novel, I would say that the only thing that was not to my liking was some of the physical descriptions of the characters and their attraction to each other. While this is, of course, based in reality – there is always something about your spouse that attracted you to him/her in the first place – I sometimes got weary of reading about Levi’s broad chest and the way some of the passionate kisses were described. Levi and Eden also seemed to fantasize about each other a lot. Not necessarily in a sexual way, but in a ‘dreaming about what it would be like to be married to each other’ way, which sometimes led to physical thoughts of each other. A good thing about the characters, though, is that they always seemed to rein in their thoughts and actions before they led too far, which is, of course, an excellent message of trying to keep one’s thoughts and actions pure.

Another thing about the romance part of this book was that even though their courtship seemed short, I still felt as if Levi and Eden got to know each other well since they spent so much time writing letters to each other towards the beginning of the novel. This part of the plot was so sweet, and it really put the point across that they were interested in each other for more than just their physical attraction.

I know that I have really enjoyed a novel when I almost miss the characters after I have finished it. That is the case with To Win Her Heart. I was a bit disappointed to not be able to go on a little farther in the lives of Levi and Eden and the other people in Spencer, Texas. This is not a series, but it could have easily become one, especially with the other characters such as Chloe and Duncan.

This book was published last year, and I’ve been waiting a while to get it into my schedule. Next time I definitely won’t wait so long to read a Karen Witemeyer book!

I will give To Win Her Heart ... 4 ½ BookWorms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, August 24, 2012

"Love Finds You in Mackinac Island, Michigan" Review

In 1894 everyone who was anyone in Chicago and Detroit left the hassles of the city to summer on Mackinac Island. For Elena Bissette, it is also an opportunity for her mother to ‘marry her off’ to the most eligible bachelor. Though she knows that her family’s financial troubles will most likely not allow it, Elena’s heart holds out the small hope that she can marry for love.

When Elena meets Chase at an abandoned lighthouse on the island, they discover a shared love for the night sky and God’s creation. But Elena doesn’t think that Chase will live up to her mother’s demanding expectations. Setting her sights on the wealthy Mr. Chester Darrington, Elena’s mother does everything she can to arrange a courtship, and Elena is caught in the middle.
Set on the beautiful and unique Mackinac Island, this latest title in the “Love Finds You” series tells of Elena’s struggle between duty to her parents and true love. The discovery of an almost one hundred-year-old diary also lends to the story as Chase and Elena puzzle over things that once took place on the island.

This is my first foray into the “Love Finds You” series of books. I’m not sure why it took me so long to read one of these, especially now that I have read the one set on Mackinac Island. What I appreciated most about this novel was that the setting was almost an additional character. The author obviously did her research, and I felt that she really captured the history and the novelty of this famous island of the Great Lakes.
The plot of this book has been done many times in Christian Historical Fiction – the daughter torn between love and what her parents want her to do – especially the aspect that she must save them all from financial ruin. But I didn’t mind that the plot was somewhat recycled. There were enough interesting characters and side plots to keep it fresh and enjoyable.  I especially liked Chester Darrington’s mother and her attitude towards the society in which she lived. The theme of not caring what others think about you and instead knowing who you are in Christ takes center stage, and this made the novel come to life more than others of the same type.

The addition of Elena and Chase’s interest in the heavens also set this novel apart from its counterparts, as did Chase’s investment in the latest inventions. It was fun to read about these things through the eyes of someone in 1894, and I liked how their intelligence and respect was what mostly attracted them to each other in the first place. I did think, however, that they fell in love awfully quickly. I think they only met at the lighthouse twice before they were both thinking those thoughts about the other.
Although I eventually settled in and enjoyed this novel, I did think that it started slowly. It was nice to be able to really get to know the characters, but once I felt comfortable with them, it was still a while before the story really gained its momentum. There was a lot of back story that was told about even minor characters that was kind of dull since I wasn’t experiencing it myself. While that was in keeping with all of the gossip that was going on in the society of that time, I still found it a bit tedious.

I also would have liked it better if the mystery with the diary at the lighthouse had come into play earlier on and had taken more of a major role in the novel as a whole. I liked that part of the story, and I was disappointed to not have a bit more of it.
Overall, though, I enjoyed this novel. It was a nice read that, once it got going, kept my interest and had characters that experienced growth and were endearing. The main characters were good, but I thought the minor characters great – very much true-to-life, whether in 1894 or 2012.

I have to mention one quote from the novel that, as a reviewer, I found very interesting. Elena, as a daughter of high society, constantly pictures herself as an actress on a stage, playing her part to please her parents and everyone else. After discovering one of the other girls gossiping about her, she wonders if she should set the storyteller straight, but then she realizes that it probably wouldn’t do any good. Then she thinks this thought: “A good actress never let the reviews bother her anyway.” Ha! I laughed out loud when I read that and wondered if this might just be a thought that the author has had at one time!

Love Finds You in Mackinac Island, Michigan, was my first in this series of novels, but it won’t be my last.

I will give this novel 3 ½ BookWorms.

This novel was sent to me as a review copy by Summerside Press. It released July 1, 2012.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Summerside Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"River's End" Review

In the third novel of the “Inn at Shining Waters” series by Melody Carlson, Anna and her daughter, Lauren, are anxious for any word of what has happened to their precious Sarah. She has been missing for a very long time after leaving for parts unknown with her boyfriend. When Sarah suddenly returns to the inn and the river, what should be a happy reunion turns into the struggle of their lives.

With Sarah and Lauren in a constant battle, the tension mounts and Anna finds herself caught in the middle. Will the three generations of this family ever be able to come together and find the peace and healing that can only come from God?

After having some mixed feelings about the first two books in this series (I liked the first better than the second), I was interested to see how the last book would wrap things up. It could have gone several different ways, and since the second book in the series, River’s Call, ended on such a cliffhanger, this was one series I definitely wanted to finish.

The biggest thing was that I kept getting so frustrated with Sarah in this novel. A lot of times she acted like a selfish brat. She had such a loving family to go home to, yet she kept running away, always searching for something better. I guess this could be an example of how we as Christians sometimes run from God. We have a wonderful, loving Savior who welcomes us with open arms and forgives us, but so often we are stubborn and want to do things our own way.

While I was frustrated with Sarah’s character, I was once again frustrated with the parents in this novel and their attitudes toward their children. It just still seemed to me as if the parents and grandparents left Sarah on her own to figure things out for herself. I just kept wanting the adults in the situation to get this poor teenager some help! Anna, the grandmother, eventually led her to the Bible so that she could read what God says about forgiveness. But, up until that point, they just seemed to be of the opinion that Sarah was a teenager and that all teenagers go through these messed up sorts of things before they eventually come around and grow out of it. The adults walked on eggshells with Sarah, always afraid that she would up and leave again. They didn’t want to do anything at all to upset her in any way, and they definitely didn’t want to make her do anything she didn’t want to do. If I did that with my daughter, she would never have any discipline in her life at all!

One thing I did like in River’s End was the relationship between Anna and Clark. They seemed to grow closer throughout the series, and their love was so sweet and true. I also liked the way that the author depicted the different changes that occurred to the inn and to the river throughout the three novels.

The inn and the river almost seemed to be characters in their own right. This was an interesting aspect, although I do think the character of Anna placed too much emphasis on the river as a place of healing. I guess the point was that the river was so peaceful that it could lead to relaxation and healing, but to me, it came across as almost being mystical. Anna oftentimes seemed to put her hope in the river instead of in God. I sometimes found the characters’ faith to be a bit misplaced. They seemed to put their trust in other things – the river, dreams, feelings – rather than in Christ.

Another interesting facet of this novel was the 1970’s communes that were depicted. I thought it was interesting how the author contrasted several of them – how some were peaceful places where people lived and worked together – and how others were places where people were held against their will and practically brainwashed. Even though I was frustrated with Sarah for continuing to run back there, I was at least better able to understand how someone who was searching would think that they would be able to find peace in such a place.

Even though I thought the characters in this novel were frustrating, I did think River’s End was an appropriate conclusion to this series. The topic of forgiveness was a main theme that wove throughout these books, and it came through very well. I also really enjoyed the epilogue to this novel – it was a great way to bring the series to an end.

I will give River’s End … 3 BookWorms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Abingdon Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, August 20, 2012

"Through Rushing Water" Review

Through Rushing Water by Catherine Richmond was sent to me as a review copy by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

When her dreams of becoming a woman of influence as the wife of a Congressman come crashing down around her, Sophia Mackinoff makes a rash decision. She signs up to be a missionary, thinking she will be going to China. Originally from Russia, Sophia thinks she will serve in China for a few years and then make her way back to her homeland. When the Mission Board sends her to be a teacher to the children of the Ponca Indian Tribe in Dakota Territory, she is sure it is a mistake.

The more time Sophia spends with the Poncas, the more she grows to love them. Her students are bright and eager to learn even while their circumstances break Sophia’s heart. The man who has been the carpenter in the Ponca tribe for three years, Will Dunn, has a heart for the people as well. As he and Sophia work with this peaceful tribe, they get to know each other better, and they wonder if there could be more in store for them in the future than just a friendship.

The Poncas live with the constant threat of removal from their homeland. What will become of the tribe – and of Will and Sophia – if this threat becomes a reality?

I very much have conflicting feelings about this book.

On the one hand, the novel was rich in historical detail and feeling. The events that are described in this novel actually happened to the Ponca tribe, and some of the characters were real people (Standing Bear, for one). I truly felt for the Poncas and the horrible treatment they received at the hand of the U.S. government. I appreciated the feelings that Will and Sophia had towards this native tribe, especially how Sophia’s love for the people grew throughout the novel. In addition, Sophia’s growth in her reliance on God was inspiring. I liked the characters of Will and Sophia, and I was cheering for them all the way.

On the other hand, there were things about this novel that were distracting. While I liked both Will and Sophia, and I appreciated their journey to each other, I’m not sure I got to know them as well as I would have liked. I’m not really sure why this was the case. Maybe it was because a lot of the writing felt disjointed. Some scenes were quite vague while others were told with great description. The dialogue was also very difficult to follow at times. I’m hoping that this was because I was reading a digital galley – the paragraph structure is not always true to form in those – but sometimes I couldn’t tell who was talking because the speaker was not identified. I don’t think the dialogue issue was because of the galley. I also thought that Will and Sophia’s part of the story got a long towards the end.

The spiritual side of the story was a bit confusing to me at times, too. It was hard for me to tell if the Native Americans were considered Christians because they had accepted Christ or because they went to church and had become more ‘civilized.’ I realize that many of the missionaries of that time were misguided in that aspect – that they just wanted to force the tribes to ‘become white’ and therefore Christian, which, of course, is way off the mark. Sophia and Will didn’t necessarily think that way, but it was still unclear a lot of the time whether any of the characters in the book had a true relationship with Christ or whether they just called themselves Christians because they had always believed in God and because they attended church.

There are many novels out there that tell a ‘fish-out-of-water’ tale, and this novel does that, but in a little bit different way. Sophia’s character in this novel had every opportunity to be the socialite who suddenly finds herself in the wilderness with no idea how to survive. This particular plot point in Through Rushing Water was so much more than that. Yes, Sophia was currently out of her element, and she was certainly na├»ve about a lot of things. However, she had not always been a socialite. The things she experienced in her homeland of Russia, the things she learned from the hardships in her past, they all added up to prepare her to be a missionary and teacher to the Poncas. My favorite part of this book was the theme that God had sent exactly the right person to the Ponca tribe for that situation and for that time. Just thinking about that motivates me to be willing to serve wherever Gods wants me to be.

The inspiring story and historical detail are what make this a compelling novel. As a historical fiction book, this one is really good. If I had been able to follow it a little bit better, I would have liked it even more.

I will give Through Rushing Water ... 3 ½ BookWorms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers through Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Food Family Style" Blog Tour

Food Family Style

Time may be short and budgets may be tight, but these 365 mouthwatering recipes are sure to draw families into the kitchen and around the table day after day.

Crowned Queso Queen, Leigh Oliver Vickery shares her passion for including the whole family in cooking and eating dinner around the kitchen table. From tasty breakfasts, soups and salads to sumptuous main dishes and desserts, Food Family Style delivers just what
readers' families ordered.

Throughout Food Family Style are symbols indicating recipes that double easily, freeze well, are gluten-free or vegetarian, can be made in a slow cooker, and more. And since there's more to mealtime than just the food, this innovative book also includes tips about how to involve kids in meal preparation, meaningful conversation starters and simple ideas to bring warmth to your home.

Available August  2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group

About the Author:  Leigh Oliver Vickery is creator and founder of Leigh Oliver's, a specialty "fun food" company with numerous products on the market in at least twenty-five states and grocery chains, including Whole Foods Market and Costco. She is the former food editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph in Tyler, Texas, and now blogs at www.onebighappytable.com. Leigh also has a regular twice-weekly segment on two local TV stations called "One Big Happy Table with Leigh Vickery." She lives in Tyler, Texas, with her husband, two sons, and three dogs.

My Take:  You know a cookbook has the potential to be good for our family when I go through the entire thing and when I am finished, there are 30-40 pages flagged with recipes that I want to try!

This cookbook has those flags!

What bothers me about most cookbooks is that the recipes are just too fancy for a family like mine or they take a lot of preparation and expensive ingredients to make. We are really just simple people who like simple food without a lot of fuss, and usually, cookbooks are not geared towards those types of families.

In Food Family Style, I knew right away that I would be able to find some 'keeper' recipes. The recipes are simple but still filling and good enough to serve for guests. I really liked the "Kids in the Kitchen" section that had recipes that are good for getting kids involved in cooking the meals. I also liked that many of the main dish recipes had suggested sides from this cookbook that you could make along with it.

While I liked the recipes in this book, I was indifferent to the personal stories and other things. They were fine - I don't think I had ever read a cookbook that mentioned faith and God other than a church cookbook! I don't think they detracted from the overall book, but I'm not sure they added much, either.

My family tried the Mexican Lasagna recipe from Food Family Style. Even though it was a bit salty for our taste, we liked it, but I forgot to take a picture of it before we all dug in! The publisher is allowing us to share one recipe from the book, so I will share this one.

Mexican Lasagna

1 lb. ground beef or turkey
1 pkg. taco seasoning
1 cup water
12 (6-in.) corn tortillas
1 cup salsa
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (15 oz.) can kernel corn, drained
1 (4 oz.) can sliced black olives, drained
1 (4 oz.) can diced mild green chiles, drained
2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 375F. Brown meat; add taco seasoning and water. Cook until thickened. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place 6 tortillas in pan, overlapping as needed to fit. Mix salsa and tomato sauce; set aside. Top tortillas with half the meat, corn, olives, and chiles. Pour half of salsa mixture over this, and sprinkle with 1 cup cheese. Repeat layers, finishing with cheese. Bake 30 minutes. Serves 6-8

I prepared this as directed except I left out the olives and chiles (not a fan) and added rinsed, drained black beans instead. As I said, we liked this except for the saltiness. I might add 'no salt added' tomato sauce the next time. We really liked the corn tortillas in this - it was a good variation.

I am also really looking forward to trying the Chocolate Chip Muffins in this book - and loads of other desserts! :)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Revell/Baker Publishing Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"The Haven" Blog Tour

The Haven

Once again, bestselling author Suzanne Woods Fisher intrigues and delights with a story that explores the bonds of friendship, family and true love in the second installment of the Stoney Ridge Seasons. Readers will enjoy every surprise in Sadie's story as they search for the truth hidden within these pages.

When Sadie Lapp steps off the bus in Stoney Ridge after being in Ohio for the winter, she is faced with a decision--one that goes against her very essence. Yet it's the only way she can think of to protect a loved one.

Schoolteacher Gideon Smucker has been crazy about Sadie since boyhood. But his response to her surprising decision undermines his own reputation--and his relationship with Sadie.

College student Will Stoltz is spending the spring at the Lapp farm as a guard for a pair of nesting Peregrine Falcons--courtesy of the Lancaster County Game Warden. Will needs to get his life back on track, but his growing friendship with Sadie threatens his plans.

The lives of these three individuals intertwine, and then unravel as unexpected twists create ripples through the town of Stoney Ridge . . . and through Sadie's heart.

Available August 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

About the Author: Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of The Choice, The Waiting, The Search, The Keeper and The Haven, as well as nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace. Her interest in the Anabaptist cultures can be directly traced to her grandfather, W. D. Benedict, who was raised in the Old Order German Baptist Brethren Church in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne is a Christy Award nominee and is the host of an internet radio show called Amish Wisdom. She lives in California.

My Take:

After reading and enjoying The Keeper, the first in the Stoney Ridge series, I was looking forward to reading this next book. Since I was already familiar with the characters, I was able to jump right into the story and reconnect with the folks in Stoney Ridge. I really like it when each book in a series tells a different person's story, so I was excited to read about Sadie this time.

Again, the story is told from the point of view of each of the many characters in this book, but it was fairly easy to keep everything straight. I enjoy getting to know what's going on from everyone's point of view. This was especially important in this book because it felt like more of a character-driven novel rather than a story-driven novel. The plots were there, but since it seemed a bit unbalanced (quick beginning and then a slower middle that then raced to the end), then I found myself focusing more on the characters rather than the story as a whole.

I really enjoyed Will in this novel. I loved experiencing his growth in his fledgling relationship with God and also just his zest for life. The theme of forgiveness like Christ forgave us comes through loud and clear. I liked Sadie, but not as much as I did Will. I also thought that Gideon was an unsympathetic character - I'm not sure how I felt about him - and that a lot of the issues in the novel would have never occured if people had just talked to each other! (Kind of a pet peeve of mine in novels...)

*****Possible SPOILER Alert*****

I do have to say that I wasn't too happy with the question mark at the end of this book. Maybe this was why I felt that the novel raced at the very end .... because it didn't feel like it went anywhere. I know I have just gotten used to the normal Christian Fiction style of boy meets girl, then there is a crisis, then the crisis is resolved, and everyone lives happily ever after - but I still felt a bit let down not knowing.

*****OK, Spoiler Over*****

All that being said, I did enjoy this novel. It didn't quite have the same zing that the first one did (I think I was just more interested in the beekeeping aspect of the last one than the falcon aspect of this one), but I still want to continue to read this series. I am excited to see what kind of things Mary Kate will get into in her story! :)

I will give The Haven ... 3 ½ BookWorms.


Celebrate the newest book in the Stoney Ridge Seasons series with Suzanne by entering her 4 eReader Giveaway and Facebook Party and RSVPing for the Live Video Chat on 8/30! 

See what folks are saying about The Haven!

Four grand prize winners will receive:
  • A Brand new Kindle Fire or Nook Color 
  • $25 Amazon.com or Barnes&Noble.com Gift certificate 
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on August 29th. Winner will be announced at Suzanne's Live Author Chat Party on 8/ 30. Suzanne will be hosting an author chat (party will start on Facebook AND then be Live from her website) and giving away books, gift certificates and several Burt's Bees® Nourishing Radiance Kits!!

So grab your copy of The Haven and join Suzanne on the evening of the August 30th for a fun chat (both on Facebook and via Live Video), trivia contest and lots of giveaways. 

Don't miss a moment of the RSVP today. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 30th!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Revell/Baker Publishing Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, August 10, 2012

"Taste of Home Cooking School Cookbook" Review

Learn to cook with confidence with The Taste of Home Cooking School Cookbook based on the popular Taste of Home Cooking Schools attended by millions.

About the Book: The Taste of Home Cooking School Cookbook, "is just like having a Cooking School instructor in your very own kitchen," says Catherine Cassidy, Editor in Chief, Taste of Home. "This essential cookbook captures the highlights of our cooking school lessons and presents them in a way that allows people of all skill levels in the kitchen, to create memorable holiday meal moments in their own homes with family, friends and neighbors."

Learn fresh techniques, tips, secrets and entertaining ideas straight from the Taste of Home Cooking School team. Each chapter builds from simple, beloved classics to spectacular dishes handed down by families from generation to generation that are sure to impress family and friends. Better yet, all of these recipes can be created with affordable ingredients available at your local grocery store. As you move from one recipe to the next, you will enhance your cooking skills and discover new favorites.

Highlights Include:

•Low-effort "Cheat It" recipes with big rewards like the refreshing Lemonade Icebox Pie, the 10-minute Zesty Salsa and Chocolate Cooking Cupcakes

•More than 400 simple to spectacular recipes including mouthwatering Gnocchi in Sage Butter, snappy Sweet & Tangy Wings, and Fresh Cherry Pie

•140 how-to's, secrets and tips shared by Taste of Home Cooking School experts from how to shape drop cookies to the best techniques for shredding meat for sandwiches and grilling salmon fillets

•Exciting twists on all-time favorites like burgers, pizza, Chinese takeout and more

About the Author: Catherine M. Cassidy is Editor-in-Chief of Taste of Home. She is responsible for driving editorial direction and product strategy across the brand's media platforms. They include Taste of Home, the number one food and entertaining magazine in the world; TasteofHome.com; social media; special interest publications; and cookbooks. She also is responsible for editorial direction for the magazines Simple & Delicious and Healthy Cooking and Enthusiast Brands Birds and Blooms, Country, Country Woman, Farm and Ranch Living, and Reminisce.

Cassidy has toured the country as the face of Taste of Home for national and local TV, radio, and newspaper interviews in support of the best-selling Taste of Home products, including its cookbooks.

Prior to joining Taste of Home, Cassidy served as Editor-in-Chief of Prevention magazine, at Rodale, Inc. Cassidy joined Rodale in 1986 as an associate editor in the book division, and was later named Executive Editor of Rodale's Custom Publishing division. She started her career at Runner's World and Fit magazines in Mountain View, California. Cassidy lives in Mequon, Wisconsin, with her husband and two daughters.

My Take:

My husband and I this last year have taken to trying new recipes every week or so. Since I discovered that publishers who participate in NetGalley sometimes have cookbooks available for review, I thought what better way to come up with some new recipes?

This cookbook was very good at breaking things down with their helpful "How To" sections, which would be great for beginning cooks. There is a fairly good variety of dishes, ranging from simple to more elegant meals for entertaining.

It seemed to me that most of these meals would be good, but that most would take a little more preparation to make on busy weeknights than I usually have. It could be done with some planning and using the different 'cheats' that were given with some recipes.

I will give an update to this post in a few months after my family has tried all of the recipes that we selected from this cookbook.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Reader's Digest and NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"Promise Me This" Review

About the Book: Michael Dunnagan was never supposed to sail on the Titanic, nor would he have survived if not for the courage of Owen Allen. Determined to carry out his promise to care for Owen’s relatives in America and his younger sister, Annie, in England, Michael works hard to strengthen the family’s New Jersey garden and landscaping business.

Annie Allen doesn’t care what Michael promised Owen. She only knows that her brother is gone—like their mother and father—and the grief is enough to swallow her whole. As Annie struggles to navigate life without Owen, Michael reaches out to her through letters. In time, as Annie begins to lay aside her anger that Michael lived when Owen did not, a tentative friendship takes root and blossoms into something neither expected. Just as Michael saves enough money to bring Annie to America, WWI erupts in Europe. When Annie’s letters mysteriously stop, Michael risks everything to fulfill his promise—and find the woman he’s grown to love—before she’s lost forever.

About the Author: Cathy Gohlke is the two-time Christy Award–winning author of William Henry Is a Fine Name and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires, which was also chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Books of 2008. Cathy and her husband live on the banks of the Laurel Run in Elkton, Maryland. Visit her website at www.cathygohlke.com.

My Take:

I have never been a fan of stories about the Titanic, nor am I a fan of war stories. So, why did I choose this novel (which has both) to review? Actually, I'm not really sure. Something about the description pulled me in, and I really wanted to know what would happen to Michael and Annie.

The best part of this book was the characters, for the most part. Owen was by far my favorite, and I was actually disappointed that I got to know him so well. Michael and Annie both experience such profound growth over the years, and Aunt Maggie and Daniel were endearing. I did think, though, that the 'bad guy' character of Annie's Aunt Eleanor was way over the top. There is no way someone during that time period would (or be able to) hold that much power over someone else. It seemed out of place. I felt so bad that these characters had to deal with the Titanic disaster, WWI, and and evil aunt all in the same book.

The historical part of this novel is extremely detailed and sucks the reader right into the time period. I appreciate the author's ability to stay true to the history while writing a captivating story.

At 416 pages, this novel is a long one, and I wonder if it was a bit ambitious to cover the sinking of the Titanic plus WWI all in one novel. But what was most frustrating to me about this novel was that even though it was long, the summary on the back of the book tells the reader almost two-thirds of the story. I felt as if the novel was extra long since it seemed as if I already knew what was going to happen for most of the book.

I also thought that a lot of the story was just too descriptive for me. This is why I normally avoid novels about Titanic and wars, because the scenes are too gritty for me to read. While I enjoyed the story, and I was interested in what would happen to the characters, I sometimes skimmed scenes that were extremely descriptive in this way.

Promise Me This is a sweeping (and ambitious) saga of love, loss, and ultimately faith through it all.

I will give Promise Me This ... 3 BookWorms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers and NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, August 6, 2012

"Raising Financially Confident Kids" Review

Real-World Guide to Debt-Proof Your Kids

About the Book: Our children are being groomed to become world-class consumers, and they are well on their way to becoming future debtors. The next generation is being manipulated by the advertising and consumer-credit industries who tell them they are entitled to whatever they want, when they want it, but with little thought on how to pay for it. Unless parents intervene, statistics indicate that the majority of kids will lead a life severely impacted by consumer debt.

In Raising Financially Confident Kids, Hunt takes on the nuts and bolts of debt-proofing your kids and gives practical advice for parents. Hunt systematically lays out her proven method, which is tailored for preschoolers through high school and designed to help parents:
  • Transform their children into effective money managers.
  • Educate their children and steer them away from consumer debt to protect their future.
  • Gradually turn over the money required for their care and support to their children.
  • Trust their children to be good stewards of a portion of the family’s resources.
  • Engrain money management skills in their children so the lessons will last a lifetime.

About the Author: Hunt was not always a personal finance expert, but lived through financial crisis, and her family emerged with a healthier view on the value of money and the danger of debt. It took them 13 years to pay off over $100,000 in unsecured debt, and Hunt is on a mission to help other families learn from her mistakes.

Hunt is an award-winning and bestselling author, syndicated columnist and sought-after motivational speaker, who created a global platform that is making strides to help men and women battle the epidemic impact of consumer debt. She is founder and publisher of the interactive website Debt-Proof Living, which features financial tools, resources and information for her online members. Her books have sold more than a million copies and her daily newspaper column is nationally syndicated through Creators Syndicate, where it is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of Everyday Cheapskate readers. Hunt speaks widely on personal finance and has appeared on shows such as Good Morning America, Oprah, Dr. Phil and Focus on the Family. She and her husband live in California.

For more information visit www.debtproofliving.com and follow Hunt on Twitter @debtproofliving.

Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, offers practical books for everyday life. For more information, visit www.RevellBooks.com.

My Take:

There are, of course, many things that I want to teach my daughter throughout her life. At the top of the list is how she can have a personal relationship with Christ, her Savior. Along with that comes learning to live her life according to the Bible, which includes learning about money and what God says about our stewardship.

My husband and I admittedly are not doing as well in this area of our lives as we should be. We need to be more disciplined as well and be good examples to our daughter. I will actually be taking a financial class at our church this fall. It is something we really want to take control of in our lives.

I was intrigued when I saw this book for review. I wanted to see how the author was able to practically incorporate a money-management system into her family that would help her kids be on the path to a life free of debt. I thought the book was very good, especially when it came to teaching older kids (around 10 and up) how to deal with money. Her ‘salary’ plan is interesting, and my husband and I had actually talked about implementing something similar with our family in the future.

I was a bit disappointed, however, at the lack of biblical principles in this book. The author talks a lot about values but almost nothing about where those values come from. I especially thought this was true when the author used an example of teaching kids about lying. She said that different kids would need different reasons or motivations in order to not lie. I agree that different kids sometimes need to have different motivations – my motivation for things definitely differs from my husband’s – but not once does the author say that the reason we shouldn’t lie is because God says not to. Maybe I am being picky, but ultimately, my money does not belong to me. It belongs to God. And I was disappointed that a Christian-published book did not emphasize that more. It was rather vague.

I also would have liked to have a few more ideas about how to teach money principles to preschoolers. There was a chapter devoted to this, but most of the ideas were for ages 6 and up. This is good to help us think about the future, but I really wanted to start doing some concrete things for my 3-year-old now. Maybe I am just not experienced with older kids and am being over-ambitious, but I think the earlier, the better.

That being said, this book definitely gives tons of practical advice, and this is what most people (including me) crave when it comes to these types of topics. After reading this book, my husband and I plan to implement several of her suggestions and will more than likely start a plan similar to the salary plan for our daughter when she is older.

I was especially struck by this quote: "People with huge consumer debt have to make twice as much to live half as well as families or individuals who live debt-free." The way that was phrased was really eye-opening to me.

It is also very obvious in this book that the author is very passionate about her work and about warning others of the harms of consumer debt. The statistics presented were frightening and very sobering. I definitely want to do whatever I can to teach my daughter how to handle her money in a wise and God-honoring way.

I will give Raising Financially Confident Kids … 3 ½ BookWorms.

Available August 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Revell Publishing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"Speed to Glory" Review

About the Book:

He conquered the thing that nearly took his life.

At five years old, Cullen Jones nearly drowned. While some people might stay away from water after that, Jones conquered his fear when his mother enrolled him in a swimming class. Not only did he learn to swim, he quickly found that he was a good swimmer... and would become one of the world's best. Discover how faith, courage, and hard work led Jones to win an Olympic gold medal and set a new world record in his event. Find out what can happen when you overcome fear and strive to become all God calls you to be. Includes a personal note from Cullen Jones.

My Take:

I love the Olympics, especially the Summer Games. I have always enjoyed them, but during the 2008 Games in Beijing, I spent day after day watching them while I was pregnant with my daughter (and very ill).

I remember Cullen Jones from the 4x100 Freestyle relay, in which the USA won the gold medal. I actually accidentally requested this title from Netgalley, but when I realized what it was about, I decided to read it and review it anyway.

This is a biography written for kids ages 9 and up, so it was easy to read, but it was also informative. I especially liked learning how Cullen has established his Make a Splash organization to bring swim lessons to kids who might not have the opportunity to learn to swim.

I enjoyed learning about Cullen's path to swimming, but I thought the faith aspect of the book lacked depth.

This biography series from Zonderkidz is a great opportunity for kids to learn more about their favorite athletes and others who are in the spotlight.

And I will continue to cheer on the USA throughout all of the Olympics to come!

I will give Speed to Glory by Natalie Davis Miller ... 3 BookWorms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Zonderkidz and NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."