Sunday, April 15, 2018

Under Prairie Skies

Cynthia Roemer's second book does not disappoint! Under Prairie Skies, sequel to her first book Under This Same Sky, picks up where her first book left off but turns the reader's attention to Charlotte. Charlotte was briefly introduced in the first book but takes center state in the second. The character development that takes place in Charlotte's story, and to a lesser extent Chad's, is truly what sets this story apart from others.

Readers who have not read the first book will have missed some of the background as to why there is animosity between Charlotte and her cousin, Becky, but will find they can easily jump into the story. However, having read the first story will certainly benefit the reader. Without giving away too much of the story, cousin Becky has returned to their community and marries the local minister. Chad, a newcomer, has arrived as well. The interactions between Charlotte and Becky create opportunities for Charlotte and Chad to get to know each other but the interactions are not always pleasant. I found in the early part of the book that I wanted to slap or shake Charlotte frequently as her character is decidedly self-centered and shallow. However, as the story progresses her character develops and matures significantly as she looks to the needs of others--particularly young Johnny.

This book is highly recommended for all readers. As Charlotte is a young woman, her story will appeal to high school readers as well as anyone who enjoys a prairie romance in the tradition of Janette Oke. Christian themes are definitely present but are weaved into the story unobtrusively. This book is also a quick read as you really want to get to the end and find out what happens. I look forward to the next book in this series.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book via Kindle prior to its release date of April 10. I was then excited to find that I won a print copy via the author's giveaway. All opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, February 19, 2018

Sensible Shoes Series: Spiritual Formation Plus Story

Recently, I received a review copy of An Extra Mile by Sharon Garlough Brown. Noting this book was the fourth book in a series, I decided I wanted to read the whole series in order to better understand the story. I'm very glad I did as I proceeded to read the entire four book series in just over a week and the whole story is really necessary to reading the fourth book.

This series is unique in that it combines a wonderful story with spiritual formation exercises that are included right in the midst of the book. The premise of the series is that in Sensible Shoes, four women meet when they each individually sign up to attend a multi-week spiritual journey group. The four women are quite disparate in their life stages and station but through the books come together to form a small group of sorts. The story follows each woman both individually and as a group centering on how they are being changed as a result of their spiritual journey and the spiritual exercises they are doing. The exciting aspect of having the spiritual exercises included is that the reader not only reads about how the exercises are life transforming for the character but also has the opportunity to experience life transformation as well.

As mentioned previously the characters in this story are quite disparate and most likely would have never met and definitely would not have formed a small group if they hadn't met at the spiritual journey group. The characters range from a young newly married PhD student, a single associate minister on sabbatical, a widowed empty-nester who recently buried her mom, and a mom in the midst of a messy home life and subsequent divorce whose story resembles that of the Samaritan woman at the well. The college age daughter of the empty-nester appears prominently in book two, Two Steps Forward and book three, Barefoot, and as a main character in book four. As noted before, they are a random group of women and as they initially meet some of the characters exhibit disdain towards others based on prior experiences, but over the course of the books they women form extremely close bonds that go well beyond friendship. In addition to the main female characters, readers are introduced to their families, the men in their lives, and numerous other characters that cross their paths. As they all live in the same town, they find they know many people in common which serves to increase their close bonds.

As noted previously, I read these books in just over a week. I will admit that while enjoying the spiritual formation aspect, during this first read, I concentrated mostly on the story which draws the reader inside. Although there are four books, the techincal time span of the series is just over 9 months although the author skillfully uses flash backs to weave in the story of each woman's life. During the 9 months in which the books take place, even though the women have just met, they travel with each other through nearly all of the major events a woman can experience which made me have difficulty putting them down (hence the really rapid reading). While reading, I rejoiced and weeped with the characters. I enjoyed that the characters in the book are real and are working through significant life issues and wondering "God, where are you in this situation?" or "Jesus, how can I follow you when I've made such a mess of everything?" These are definitely not "fluffy" reads by any means. A particularly poignant section for me was reading about the premature birth of a baby and remembering feeling the exact same emotions when my own children were born premature. Having read the books initially for the story, I look forward to re-reading the books more intently for the spiritual formation. I want to journey with the Sensible Shoes ladies once more as an active participant in their spiritual journey.

Author Sharon Garlough Brown draws upon her experience as a spiritual director and retreat leader throughout these books. Her website provides information on her speaking schedule and suggested resources related to the books. I highly encourage women's groups to read these wonderful books in a study or book club setting. Many women will find these books are their first introduction to the concept of spiritual direction and will desire to locate either a spiritual director or spiritual retreat opportunities. The books also kindle a longing for the tight relationship these women have.

Having journeyed with the characters in this book, I must confess to being sad that An Extra Mile is the last book in this series. There are many loose ends to the story that simply begs a further installment in the series. I hope author Sharon Brown will continue to write.

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

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Goodreads: Strangers in the Kingdom

Strangers in the Kingdom: Ministering to Refugees, Migrants and the StatelessStrangers in the Kingdom: Ministering to Refugees, Migrants and the Stateless by Rupen Das
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Strangers in the Kingdom is an amazing book that needs to be added to your reading list. The authors helped me to see new threads in the biblical narrative and brought out theological themes that I had not fully considered before. The explanations of the terms used to describe refugees, migrants, and the stateless are extremely useful and help you to see the numerous situations that create these groups and are truly heartbreaking. Beyond the biblical and theological aspects, the book contains numerous examples of how various churches, organizations, and individuals are ministering to these groups. The examples are all non-U.S. in origin. I finished reading the book desiring to explore how churches in the U.S., and specifically churches in my home community, can perhaps work together to sponsor a refugee family. This book is brief but life changing.

A full and official review of this book will eventually appear in The Christian Librarian as this book was provided in return for a review in their publication.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 22, 2018

Maggie Hope WWII Spy Series

Last month while at our local library perusing the new books, the title The Paris Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal caught my attention. As I looked through it, I noted it was the most recent book in the Maggie Hope series and seemed to recall that I had read at least one of the books in the series previously. As I dislke hopping into a series part way through, I proceeded to check out every copy of this series available in the library. I was delighted to find that the copies not available in print were available as ebooks for check out as well. As this was just before Christmas, I anticipated plenty of time to read through this series.

As I revisited the first book in the series, Mr. Churchill's Secretary, I quickly found myself caught up in the adventures of American raised but British born main character Maggie Hope who finds herself in London during World War II. Life finds her working at #10 Downing Street and soon she is in the midst of a variety of intriguing situations. As the series continues, Maggie and her friends find themselves interacting with numerous famous individuals and participating in spy and espionage activities. Over the course of the novels, Maggie interacts with not only the Prime Minister but also the royal family, the President and First Lady, and famous generals. I was most disappointed to reach the end of The Paris Spy only to be presented with a huge cliff-hanger and discover the next book The Prisoner in the Castle doesn't come out until August. I'm waiting on pins and needles to find out what happens!

I highly recommend this excellent and award winning series. It is an adult series with some minor adult language (it is set in war time) and veiled references to the characters sexual activity. Even so, I do not hesitate to encourage my teenage daughter to read these books.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Understanding Your Teen

In less than one month, I will be the proud mother of not just one but two teenagers. Thus, receiving a copy of Understanding Your Teen: Shaping Their Character, Facing Their Realities by Jim Burns, president of HomeWord, was quite timely and appreciated. Jim Burns writes from the perspective of both an expert in adolescence who has spent a lifetime working with teens and a parent who lived to tell about raising his three daughters to adulthood. As such, the book is grounded in research but filled with stories illustrating the concepts.

This volume is divided into two parts--Part 1: Parenting Teems to Become Responsible Adults and Part 2: Common Teen Issues and What Parents Can Do. Jim Burns opens Understanding Your Teen by describing the vast changes that have occurred since today's parents went through the teen years and that parents cannot make assumptions about their teens' experiences. This is a theme he often returns to throughout the book. Burns continues to lay a firm foundation by briefly outlining adolescent development and general parenting strategies before delving into adolescent issues. As expected in a book about parenting today's teenager, the subjects of media, sexuality, education, and communication are addressed as well as spirituality. Surprisingly, Burns also addresses the importance of a strong marriage in effectively parenting teens. Part 2 of Understanding Your Teen functions as a mini encyclopedia describing numerous teen issues, symptoms of the issues, and brief suggestions on how to handle them. This section is intensely practical and useful to have on hand when needed.

A highlight of this volume is the great questions that appear at the end of each chapter in part one. These questions are ideal for spouses to use as they read and interact with the material. They also make this book an ideal resource for a parenting class or Bible study group. Youth ministers will wish to be familiar with this book as a resource to recommend to parents. Church and public libraries will desire to add this to their shelves.

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Wildtree Adventures

Recently I purchased my first Wildtree freezer workshop bundle. This bundle provides the Wildtree products and the recipes you need to make ahead meals in your freezer. I used to do a lot of make ahead freezer cooking and had dropped off the bandwagon so I was excited to get back to this. I did find the twist with the Wildtree bundle is that the freezer meals are more prep work for later cooking instead of cooking ahead and then freezing for "heat and eat" meals.

I had purchased the Family Favorites workshop and a packaged titled "5 Minute Prep." The 5 minute prep had freezer instructions for several items as well. While the workshops are designed to do all at one time, I didn't follow the directions exactly. Our family buys beef and pork from a local farmer. While I do plan to make the beef and pork recipes, I didn't have all of the meat I needed thawed so some of them will wait until another day. I also took some other liberties with the directions as well but more on that in a bit.

After consulting my list of needed items and what I already had available, I headed to the store where I purchased an immense amount of chicken. Upon coming home, I decided it would be easiest for me to deal with one kind of meat at a time. So, I proceeded to work preparing my chicken breasts (butterflying and slicing) and chicken thighs (cutting off the excess fat). After working through my breasts and thighs, I had the protein for three meals bagged and sauced. I will admit I had a non Wildtree sauce that I want to use up this week so I sliced and set aside some chicken to use for that as well. The next recipe called for skinless chicken drumsticks and chicken thighs. I was unable to find the exact item but did find the needed drumsticks and thighs with the skin still on for a great price so I set to work skinning the meat. When finished, I had not one but two more meals processed. I then turned my attention to slicing and dicing the necessary vegetables to add to my bags. My workshop instructions also included some recipes using salmon. Fortunately, I had some frozen individually packed salmon in the freezer. I was excited that I had enough for two meals and quickly placed the fish and appropriate sauce in the bags.

I was quite excited now to place 7 pre-made meals in my freezer. However, as previously mentioned we buy meat from a local farmer so our freezer is a bit on the full side. Fortunately, a little bit of re-arranging created the necessary room for these bags. In doing so, I took out some meat to additional meals. As this meat was already frozen, I did run into a couple of snags. For some items, I simply unwrapped the meat, placed it in the bag, and poured the sauce over it. For another meat, the plastic it was wrapped it wasn't coming off easily. I had intended to put the little bit of Thai-flavored sauce I had left from a previous recipe over the pork steak, but instead the pork steak is now thawing in the refrigerator for use later this week. When I decide to cook it, I'll choose between several open sauces. I may find for the remaining 5 meals in this workshop that it is more convenient for me to thaw the meat several days before I wish to use it, do my prep work the evening before and then leave it in the refrigerator in a ziploc bag or in the pan I will need to use.

While rummaging through my freezer, I discovered a fairly large size beef brisket. Given that room in the freezer was at a premium, there is now a brisket thawing in my refrigerator. I was very excited to find that searching for "beef brisket Wildtree" located numerous recipes using Wildtree products I had available. I look forward to serving Ethiopian Brisket with Swiss Chard later this week. I found that there are numerous recipes on the Wildtree site and on customer blogs.

While I love to cook from scratch and try new recipes, I'm really excited to have at least some of our meals planned out and made ahead of time. I'm hoping this will eliminate some of the last minutes crazies of deciding what to eat particularly on busy evenings."

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Love in a Broken Vessel

I read lots of books and most rank in the middle in that they are an enjoyable break from whatever I ought to be working on but rarely earth shattering or memorable in the long-term. Today I finished a book that fits the memorable in the long-term category. Mesu Andrews writes fictional accounts of Bible stories. I had previously read another of her books which I had enjoyed so when I found Love in a Broken Vessel in the depths of my Kindle, I decided it was my weekend pleasure. This book retells the story of Hosea and Gomer. Andrews does a wonderful job of researching and setting her books in the Bible time period. The addition of flesh, blood, conversation, and feelings to the Biblical accounts are so enjoyable. As one would suspect, this style of writing requires much artistic license. Andrews does a marvelous job of combining research of life in Bible times as well as theological research and creating an engaging story. Particularly in this story, Andrews emphasizes the love and emotions behind the story of Hosea and Gomer and how their story mirrors the story of God's love for Israel and likewise for us.