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Monday, January 22

Strange Attraction (Cure)

If you do any amount of travelling, then you know how important an accurate map and compass are.  This week, we studied the history and applications of magnetism to maps & globes...including latitudes / longitudes and a funny Cub Scout movie about reading a compass.

We started out with a lapbook on the basics of maps and globes.  This was a great opportunity to continue working on continents and oceans with the youngest.  My oldest fashioned his own globe out of a styrofoam ball that we found laying around and two toothpicks.
We read the Magic School Bus : Amazing Magnetism and completed an accompanying unit (free!).  The boys built their own compass using the same methods from as Miss Frizzle.  We also used the Young Scientist Series : Magnetism kit.
For our field trip, we took a trip to the zoo to test our map skills.  Not once (including this trip) have we visited the zoo without getting lost!  While we were there, we stopped in to see the baby rhino that was just born.  (Everybody say "awwwwwww.")
We learned about how magnetism helps animals, such as butterflies, with their migratory paths.  And we finally got to see the chameleon at the herpetology house.  While in the herpetology house, we brushed up on our knowledge of local (and venomous) snakes.
The front of the zoo has an enormous world map.  The boys were challenged to find someplace they had recently visited, and go stand on it.  One is at the Great Lakes, while the other is by New York City.
We enjoyed a nice little hike as we attempted to find our way out of the maze that they call the zoo....it's always an adventure!
We walked next door to the Science Museum to take this adventure into cooler, and less humid, temperatures.  At the entrance, we found an extra-large globe, and enjoyed pointing out where different family members live.  See the world's largest globe in Maine!
We talked about different types of maps, as well.  Here is a cute map of the solar system and an astronomical chart of the stars during different seasons.
In the hands-on section, we learned about magnetic fields, how magnetism and electricity are related, and how magnetism affects gravitational pull.
We have been studying Leonardo da Vinci for history, and reading the Magic Treehouse : Monday with a Mad Genius .  In the book (spoiler alert), Leonardo's secret to happiness is his perpetual curiosity.  As we had just completed the book, I found this wall mural to be relevant and fascinating.
Back at home, we created maps of the zoo and learned about animal classification.  There were some great sections in the animal classification unit about how the earth's magnetic pull affects different animals.  It was a nice, albeit unintentional, segue.
My youngest took this photo.  He says that I never put pictures of myself on the blog posts.  I told him that it was because I took most of the pictures, so he decided to put his own artwork online today.  In my defense, it was very hot and humid!!

Tuesday, January 16

Debunking Myths About Latin...

You’ve gotten the hang of this homeschooling thing…and then, you enter the high school years.  One of the changes is the addition of foreign language.  About half of families begin foreign language in the elementary years, while the other half wait until high school.  If you’re trying to decide which language to select, may I make the case for Latin?

Let’s look at some common misconceptions about Latin…
  • It isn’t practical.
I really have to laugh at this one!  Have you been to a doctor recently?  How about a lawyer?  Read any higher-level books recently?  Been to a church?  If you’ve done any of the three, then you’ve already been encountering Latin in daily use.  Maybe your student is interested in other Romance languages, but can’t decide which to choose…Latin is the foundation for Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and Romansh.  Learn the one, and they’ll have a leg up on several.  

But maybe your student is just a struggling learner who has difficulty making sense of the English language.  Why on earth would you want to try and teach them another one?  (I had the same question with my struggling learner, with some amazing results.)  By getting that good foundation with words that they don’t know – thus having to really put the effort into paying attention – your student will come away with a better grasp of the English language and how it works.  They may not master the language, but you will see results in their English reading and writing abilities.
  • You should have begun teaching prior to high school.
While it’s true that exposing a child to a foreign language early on can be very beneficial for fluency, it isn’t really necessary with Latin.  Many families start in middle school – and that is when we began, as it helps to provide a strong grammar and language mechanics foundation.  Even if you wait until high school to begin, that same foundation is going to bolster ACT and SAT scores.  By then, too, your student’s brain will have developed enough to be ready for some of the more advanced reasoning skills needed for true success.  Don’t sweat it – start in ninth grade and put in the required two years…or three or four, for brownie points!
  • It’s only for the ‘smart kids.’
Are we really going to go down that road?  I like to tell my kids that “it’s only easy if you know it,” and Latin is no exception.  All learning requires determination, but if you’re interested in learning something, you’ll make the effort.  I would argue that Latin can be a big boon to the below-average student, particularly those struggling with language arts, as it will help to provide a stronger grammar and language usage foundation than the typical English class.  Maybe it’s not the ‘smart kids’ that make up a Latin class….maybe it’s the class that turns them into the ‘smart(er) kids.’
  • It’s a dead language.
Well…not in this house.  We actually have a book called How to Insult, Abuse, and Insinuate in Classical Latin.  I kid you not…it is the most popular book in our car (that would be – books that stay in the car for those “are we there yet?” days).  It’s true that Latin is usually an unspoken language, but my children wield their Latin phrases like swords against each other!  And, (ducking my head), they’ve even been known to insult others in Latin, too.  Thankfully, said folks were unawares.  My point is, it’s NOT a dead language if you don’t want it to be.  You can choose to get caught up in the (unfounded) stereotype that Latin is boring and drudgery, or you can choose to make it fun!


Click on the pics below to find out Why We Teach Elementary Latin and to access some of our favorite Latin resources!
 Why We Teach Elementary Latin Resources

Monday, January 15

Think (Aretha Franklin)

The past two weeks have been extraordinarily frustrating as I have been forced to face the facts that I am computer-stupid.  A few years ago (let's take some liberties with the word "few"), when I was in college, I was at the top of the computer / informational science game.  Everything is different now, and I realized this week that I know nothing.  So, with many missteps, I am slowly discovering new computer skills...it's a painful process at times.
"No one here knows anything.  But, I know that I don't know anything.  Like the paradox?"   -the Mentalist
What does it mean to be well-educated?  Is it about job skills, test scores, memorizing facts?  If you ask Congress these days, they would tell you that it is about developing a common core of knowledge and preparing students for the workplace.  However, teaching this way puts the emphasis on retaining information, rather than learning how to think.

Right now, our nation's educational system is being shredded by the Common Core's supporters and dissenters.  Every decade, there is a new educational push, and while I give credit to the government for realizing that the system is broken, a federal mandate isn't going to fix it.
Congress declares that standardized testing will determine which students are 'well-educated' or not.  Teachers are forced to teach around the test, and students sacrifice true learning in favor of higher test scores.  Ultimately, students receive an inferior education because of this 'teaching to the test,' and the standards are actually lowered.

"Most teachers can instantly name students who are talented thinkers but who just don’t do well on these exams – as well as students whose scores seem to overestimate their intellectual gifts. Indeed, researchers have found a statistically significant correlation between high scores on a range of standardized tests and a shallow approach to learning."  (Alfie Kohn, 2003)

As for memorizing facts and figures, this information is only worth something if it can be put to use.  If students aren't taught to think creatively and apply their knowledge, then what good is it?  (Other than for passing those standardized tests, of course.)  Another favorite of mine is that a student must be present in his / her seat for a certain number of hours each year.  How many students are present in body only?  Without engagement, there is no learning.
 Only a few short years ago, school was about learning.  Today it is about testing.  This is one of the many reasons that my husband and I decided to homeschool.  While we do use traditional curriculum for some subjects, we have opted for a child-centered 'unschooling' approach, to encourage a love of learning.

Unschoolers learn through life experiences, including travel, reading, social interaction, and family.  We center units around our current travels, or the boys' love-of-the-week (whether it be skeletons, Ninjago, or Scandinavia), and allow them to take the lead. 

As parents, we know that children will dig much deeper into their own interests than an assignment.  My son abhors writing, but he wrote a twelve-page story about being a Viking when we studied Scandinavia...of his own volition.  And they retain so. much. more. when they're studying a personal interest.
This isn't to say that traditional curricula is bad, or uncalled for, but rather that knowledge should be sought for knowledge's sake - especially in elementary school.  If you can teach your children to love learning, then they will become lifelong learners. 

It isn't about credentials or degrees.  Having both the drive and the ability to be a lifelong learner are what makes one truly well-educated.  Teach your child to love the process....however painful it may be at times.

Wednesday, January 10

Slow Cooked Meatless

Meatless Monday
Learn the Crockpot Basics!!

Black Bean Burritos
  • 2 c chicken broth
  • 1 c pearl barley
  • 3/4 c frozen corn
  • 1/4 c chopped green onions
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper
  • 15 oz black beans (drain)
  • 10 oz Rotel (do not drain)
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 8 tortillas
  • shredded cheese
  • lettuce
  • 1/2 c salsa
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  1. Place everything except tortilla, cheese, salsa, sour cream, and lettuce into crockpot.
  2. Cover and cook on low 4 hours.
  3. Scoop into tortillas to create burritos, and top with extras.


Ratatouille
  • 2 c sliced eggplant
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 sliced zucchini
  • 2 sliced yellow squash
  • 1/2 c white wine
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 15 oz stewed tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 1/3 c fresh basil
  • 3 oz feta cheese
  1. Mix everything except basil and feta in crockpot.
  2. Cover and cook on low 4 hours.
  3. Stir in basil.  Top with cheese.


Veggie Pot Pie
  • Filling
    • 2 Tbsp olive oil
    • 2 c diced potato
    • 3 diced carrots
    • 2 diced parsnips
    • 3 chopped celery stalks
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 1/2 tsp pepper
    • 2 minced garlic cloves
    • 2 1/2 Tbsp flour
    • 1 1/2 c milk
    • 3/4 c broth
    • 2 c frozen peas
    • 1 1/2 Tbsp fresh thyme
  • Biscuits
    • 1 2/3 c flour
    • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
    • 3/4 tsp baking soda
    • 1/8 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp pepper
    • 4 1/2 Tbsp butter
    • 1/2 c grated parmesan cheese
    • 3 Tbsp fresh chives
    • 1 c buttermilk
  1. Mix all filling ingredients together in crockpot.  Cover and cook on high 30-45 minutes.  
  2. Reduce heat to low and cook 4 hours.
  3. In a bowl, mix flour, powder, soda, salt, and pepper.  Cut in butter until batter is coarse.  Stir in cheese, chives, and buttermilk.
  4. Turn crockpot up to high, and drop biscuits into mounds on top of veggies.
  5. Cover and cook high 1 1/2 hours.

Monday, January 8

Alkaline Nights (Serpico)


When you're out on the road, getting sick just isn't an option.  That's not to say that it doesn't happen, but it's considerably easier to take steps toward maintaining good health. 

One of the easiest things you can do to stay well is to lay
 off the sugar.  We all know it's bad for us - but do you know how to help break the cycle?  There are only about a million books out there that claim to tell you how to do it.  

Below are the two tricks that are working for us, personally.  They both work to alkalize your body, which actually helps to break the cravings for sugar!  As they are strong alkalizers, they should be used in moderation.

Lemon Cayenne Tonic
  • 1 lemon (juiced)
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 2 oz water
Mix all ingredients together and serve over ice.  Inhale it like a jello shooter...  Limit yourself to one daily.
Baking Soda Tonic
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 8 oz water
Mix together and shake well.  Do not take with a meal, so that it doesn't interfere with stomach acids.  Limit yourself to one tsp daily - it's very potent!

And if the worst happens, and you still end up sick, there are several ways to help shorten the duration and get you back to enjoying life again!!

Thursday, January 4

January Bibliomania....

Oh January.....you bring the bitter cold winds and biting weather, as well as the post-holiday blues.  If we're lucky, you also bring us a chance to curl up with a hot cup of tea, cozy blanket, and stack up books!!

Featured Book of the Month...
Why We Don’t Suck (Dennis Leary)
In an America so gluten-free that a box of jelly donuts is now a bigger threat than Vladimir Putin, where college kids are more afraid of Ann Coulter than HIV, it’s time for someone to stand up and make us all smell the covfefe.  Dr. Denis Leary is that guy.  With Why We DON’T Suck: And How All of Us Need to Stop Being Such Partisan Little Bitches, Denis is on a devoted mission to #MakeAmericaLaughAgain. Using the clamorous political atmosphere as a starting point, he takes a bipartisan look at the topics we all hold so dear to our patriotic hearts—including family, freedom, and the seemingly endless search for fame and diet vodka.  Denis will answer important questions like: When will Hillary blame herself? Why does Beyoncé think he’s Bryan Adams? And why doesn’t he follow the millennial lead and post pictures of his food on social media? (Spoiler alert: He’s too busy actually eating it.)  Not that Denis has anything against millennials: “When it comes to science, math, and technological advances, this generation has done more in three and a half decades than any other age group in history. What did my generation do? Cocaine and quaaludes mostly. With a side order of really stupid haircuts.”  Dr. Leary is here to remind us of what truly makes America great, even though we’re #7 on the most recent list of Best Countries to Live In. Which may sound bad but means we still make the playoffs.

They say that truth is stranger than fiction, and the current American political climate is a good example.  It’s so out-of-control that it’s like watching a train wreck….you know it’s going to end badly, and it’s so horrible to see, yet you can’t help but stare, slack-jawed and utterly helpless to correct it.  Leary doesn’t take sides – he rips into both parties equally.  He’s not of the ‘safe space’ generation, and doesn’t give a damn about what you think, personally.  He’s in favor of common sense government, using consideration of others (even if you don’t agree on everything, it doesn’t mean that you have to judge a person or make decisions for them), and standing on your own two feet.  After thoroughly ripping every generation and political party in our country to shreds, he points out what is right in America today – and it’s more than you’d think.  If you need a break from the news, and are just tired of it all, this book will bring a few chuckles.  One caveat – if you require a G-rated book, this isn’t for you.  Leary is known for having a mouth on him, and I’m ok with that; but you probably should know it ahead of time.

Inspirational Fiction

Until We Find Home (Cathy Gohlke)
For American Claire Stewart, joining the French Resistance sounded as romantic as the storylines she hopes will one day grace the novels she wants to write. But when she finds herself stranded on English shores, with five French Jewish children she smuggled across the channel before Nazis stormed Paris, reality feels more akin to fear.  With nowhere to go, Claire throws herself on the mercy of an estranged aunt, begging Lady Miranda Langford to take the children into her magnificent estate. Heavily weighted with grief of her own, Miranda reluctantly agrees . . . if Claire will stay to help. Though desperate to return to France and the man she loves, Claire has few options. But her tumultuous upbringing―spent in the refuge of novels with fictional friends―has ill-prepared her for the daily dramas of raising children, or for the way David Campbell, a fellow American boarder, challenges her notions of love. Nor could she foresee how the tentacles of war will invade their quiet haven, threatening all who have come to call Bluebell Wood home and risking the only family she’s ever known.  Set in England’s lush and storied Lake District in the early days of World War II, and featuring cameos from beloved literary icons Beatrix Potter and C. S. Lewis, Until We Find Home is an unforgettable portrait of life on the British home front, challenging us to remember that bravery and family come in many forms.

I've read a couple of Gohlke books before, and really enjoyed them.  This one is also set in the World War II era (as were the others I'd read), and focuses on the French Resistance and their efforts underground to save lives during the war years.  It mostly takes place in Britain, and the author has done such a good job of researching the setting and describing it that you will feel as though you've been transported back in time to this world.  As you would expect, the main characters grow, both in spirit, maturity, and in their relationship.  It is the setting and plot, more so than the characters, that really makes this book.

Saturday Night Supper Club (Carla Laureano)
Denver chef Rachel Bishop has accomplished everything she’s dreamed and some things she never dared hope, like winning a James Beard Award and heading up her own fine-dining restaurant. But when a targeted smear campaign causes her to be pushed out of the business by her partners, she vows to do whatever it takes to get her life back . . . even if that means joining forces with the man who inadvertently set the disaster in motion.  Essayist Alex Kanin never imagined his pointed editorial would go viral. Ironically, his attempt to highlight the pitfalls of online criticism has the opposite effect: it revives his own flagging career by destroying that of a perfect stranger. Plagued by guilt-fueled writer’s block, Alex vows to do whatever he can to repair the damage. He just doesn’t expect his interest in the beautiful chef to turn personal.  Alex agrees to help rebuild Rachel’s tarnished image by offering his connections and his home to host an exclusive pop-up dinner party targeted to Denver’s most influential citizens: the Saturday Night Supper Club. As they work together to make the project a success, Rachel begins to realize Alex is not the unfeeling opportunist she once thought he was, and that perhaps there’s life―and love―outside the pressure-cooker of her chosen career. But can she give up her lifelong goals without losing her identity as well?

If you're a foodie with a romantic side, this is the book for you!  It starts out with an offense, followed up with an apology, and then a quest for a common goal that ultimately results in a romance.  (Because don't the most passionate ones always begin with an argument?)  Underneath that plot line, however, are themes of being true to oneself, taking risks, developing our talents, and accepting our uniqueness.  It's also about dreams, priorities, and being realistic.  It is the first of a new series, and I'm quite interested to see who is featured next!

Holding the Fort (Regina Jennings)  
Louisa Bell never wanted to be a dance-hall singer, but dire circumstances force her hand. With a little help from her brother in the cavalry, she's able to make ends meet, but lately he's run afoul of his commanding officer, so she undertakes a visit to straighten him out.  Major Daniel Adams has his hands full at Fort Reno. He can barely control his rowdy troops, much less his two adolescent daughters. If Daniel doesn't find someone respectable to guide his children, his mother-in-law insists she'll take them.  When Louisa arrives with some reading materials, she's mistaken for the governess who never appeared. Major Adams is skeptical. She bears little resemblance to his idea of a governess--they're not supposed to be so blamed pretty--but he's left without recourse. His mother-in-law must be satisfied, which leaves him turning a blind eye to his unconventional governess's methods. Louisa's never faced so important a performance. Can she keep her act together long enough?

A quick and cozy read, this will fill your wintry afternoon and whisk you away to another place!  The characters are fun and easy to relate to.  The main character certainly has her flaws, but she is a changed woman and has been given the opportunity for a new start.  While it's not admirable that she lies to get the start, it is understandable that she felt she'd be judged before the sun was set otherwise.  Her leading male character is both witty and serious, and their exchanges go from caustic to romantic throughout the book.  It's not a think-piece...you know how the story will end before it begins, but it's a fun journey.  This is the first in a new series, and I'm curious to see how the story continues to play out.


The Lacemaker (Laura Frantz)
When colonial Williamsburg explodes like a powder keg on the eve of the American Revolution, Lady Elisabeth "Liberty" Lawson is abandoned by her fiancé and suspected of being a spy for the hated British. No one comes to her aid save the Patriot Noble Rynallt, a man with formidable enemies of his own. Liberty is left with a terrible choice. Will the Virginia belle turned lacemaker side with the radical revolutionaries, or stay true to her English roots? And at what cost?  Historical romance favorite Laura Frantz is back with a suspenseful story of love, betrayal, and new beginnings. With her meticulous eye for detail and her knack for creating living, breathing characters, Frantz continues to enchant historical fiction readers who long to feel they are a part of the story.

I’ve never read anything from this author, but look forward to more historical fiction from her.  You can tell that’s she researched the fine details of the era, really bringing it to life.  We recently returned from Williamsburg, so that made the story even more realistic for me.  The characters are well-developed; some are likable, some are not.  There are multiple love interests, and loyalties are tested in the novel, as they were during the Revolutionary War.  In a time where what you believed defined everything else about you, it must’ve been very difficult to play both sides off the middle, but that is precisely what some of the characters do here.  It’s a story about staying true to yourself, but also loving and forgiving others who differ.  My only complaint was that the ending just sort of…ended – almost as if the deadline came up, or the author ran out of allowed pages.  Perhaps there’ll be a sequel?

Amish Sweethearts (Amy Clipston)
Love is in the air in these four sweet romances!
Love and Buggy Rides (previously published in An Amish Harvest)
Janie Lantz is a cashier at Lancaster Souvenirs and Buggy Rides, where Jonathan Stoltfuz is a buggy driver. A frightening accident brings Janie and Jonathan together in a blossoming friendship, yet daunting obstacles stand between them and something deeper. Can love kindle into flames that burn away fear and regret—and lead them to a life together?
A Home for Lindsay
From Amy Clipston’s beloved Kauffman Amish Bakery series comes Lindsay Bedford’s story. Lindsay is happily looking forward to the day she becomes Matthew Glick’s wife and is excited for the plans he has for the house he will build her. So, when Matthew suddenly calls off the wedding, she is blindsided. She knows there is more to the story than what he is telling her, but will he open up and let her in on his own heartbreak?
Where the Heart Is
Tobias Smucker is back home, and it’s no secret he and his father are still not on the best of terms. But what is surprising is that his little sister’s best friend, Mariella, has been harboring her own secret feelings for Tobias. With her help, he begins to unravel a family mystery and learns that everyone has their own hidden depths, including his father.
Love Birds (previously published in An Amish Market)
While Ellie Lapp and her mother are still mourning the loss of her brother, Seth, Ellie starts working at one of the gift shops in town. Seth’s friend Lloyd is talented at carving wooden birds, but his father disapproves and expects him to take over the family farm someday. Ellie sees the beauty in Lloyd’s creations and insists Lloyd sell the birds in the gift shop where she works. As Ellie and Lloyd spend more time together, they begin to develop feelings for one another, but she accidentally betrays his trust. Will she lose any hope of a future with him?


I like that these are short stories that can be devoured in one sitting...particularly in this cold weather.  They are short, simple stories, each with an underlying moral or character lesson.  As Christian love stories, they are PG-rated and appropriate for even teen readers.  The characters are believable and easy to relate to, and the stories - while a bit short in places - are lovable!  Two of the stories were ones I'd read before, in other Amish-short-story-collections, but I'd really like to see some of these characters, such as Tobias and Mariella from the third story, blossom into a full-length novel expounding upon their struggles, relationship, and future.  It's a great set of novellas to kick off the season of love...for upcoming Valentine's Day!

Beneath the Summer Sun (Kelly Irvin)
It’s been four years since Jennie’s husband died in a farming accident. Long enough that the elders in her Amish community think it’s time to marry again for the sake of her seven children. What they don’t know is that grief isn’t holding her back from a new relationship. Fear is. A terrible secret in her past keeps her from moving forward.  Mennonite book salesman Nathan Walker stops by Jennie’s farm whenever he’s in the area. Despite years of conversation and dinners together, she never seems to relax around him. He knows he should move on, but something about her keeps drawing him back.  Meanwhile, Leo Graber nurtures a decades-long love for Jennie, but guilt plagues him—guilt for letting Jennie marry someone else and guilt for his father’s death on a hunting trip many years ago. How could anyone love him again—and how could he ever take a chance to love in return?  In this second book in the Every Amish Season series, three hearts try to discern God’s plan for the future—and find peace beneath the summer sun.  (First book :  Upon a Spring Breeze)

I'd already ready Spring and, after this book, am looking forward to the close of the series in Autumn.  We continue to follow the story of Jennie Troyer, who struggles with caring for her seven children alone.  She's got a teenager who is being a typical teen...pushing boundaries...as well as younger children who need better supervision; but what's a single (widowed) mom to do?  Enter two men, both who want her affection, and you have a love triangle on top of everything else!  It's not a light-hearted book, though; in spite of the tone of this review, the author tackles some serious subjects, such as domestic abuse, hardened hearts, and the struggle for forgiveness.

Troubled Waters (Susan May Warren) 
Billionaire Ian Shaw can have everything he wants--except a happy ending. Or at least that's what it feels like with his fortune recently liquidated, his niece, Esme, still missing, and the woman he loves refusing to speak to him. In fact, he doubts she would date him even if they were stranded on a deserted island.  Despite her love for Ian, Sierra Rose knows he has no room in his life for her as long as the mystery of his missing niece goes unsolved. The only problem is, Sierra has solved it, but a promise to Esme to keep her whereabouts secret has made it impossible to be around Ian.  When the PEAK chopper is damaged and Sierra lacks the funds to repair it, Ian offers a fundraising junket for large donors on his yacht in the Caribbean. But the three-day excursion turns into a nightmare when a rogue wave cripples the yacht and sends the passengers overboard. Shaken up and soaked to the bone, Ian finally has a chance to test his theory when he and Sierra do indeed find themselves washed up on a strange, empty shore.  It will take guts and gumption for the PEAK team to rescue the duo. But it will take a miracle to rescue Ian and Sierra's relationship.

I think that, by not reading the first books in this series, I missed out on a lot of the backstory.  Usually, books that are part of a series can be read as a standalone (and, technically, this one can, too), but this one just didn’t work very well by itself.  This is the fourth book in the Montana Rescue series.  The characters are already established and connected, and have little character development.  I felt as though we were expected to already know them, and after a while, I was able to catch up some.  The two leads, Ian and Sierra, don’t really seem like they should go together, but you know that they will.  There are tragedies to overcome and personal struggles to cope with at the same time.  When the hurricane overturns Ian’s yacht, it’s more than just a part of the story – it’s a metaphor for life.  It’s the journey that really makes the book, but the two struggle with faith and forgiveness, love and trust, and come out on top.

Steal Away Home (Billy Coffey)
Owen Cross’s father is a hard man, proud in his brokenness, who wants nothing more than for Owen to succeed where he failed. With his innate talents and his father’s firm hand guiding him, Owen goes to college with dreams of the major leagues—and an emptiness full of a girl named Micky Dullahan.  Owen loved Micky from the first time they met on the hill between their two worlds: his middle-class home and her troubled Shantytown. Years later he leaves her for the dugouts and the autographs, but their days together follow him. When he finally returns home, he discovers that even peace comes at a cost. And that the hardest things to say are to the ones we love the most.  From bestselling author Billy Coffey comes a haunting story of small-town love, blinding ambition, and the risk of giving it all for one last chance.

If you’re a fan of baseball, this might be the book for you.  It’s about playing baseball in the South, and the era of segregation.  The Major League descriptions are pretty neat – gives you a behind the scenes look – but that’s the best thing I have to say about this novel that focuses on life choices, grief, and forgiveness.  The love story element was confusing, and the main character was unrealistic and unlikeable.  I’ve read another book by Billy Coffey (can’t remember the title off-hand), but I don’t remember it being this difficult to get into and enjoy.  The timelines are all over the place, and it’s difficult to keep the perspectives straight.

Fiction
The Roanoke Girls (Amy Engel)
“Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.”  After her mother's suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother's mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran…fast and far away.  Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.  As it weaves between Lane’s first Roanoke summer and her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.

This novel definitely has issues…it’s a psychological thriller and the girls are all kinds of messed up.  I just felt a little dirty reading it, in spite of the fact that there isn’t really anything graphic and most of it is insinuated.  It’s the psychological fallout on the girls involved that’s really the book’s focus.  It’s all about a twisted, tangled family tree of relationships and the unraveling of secrets.  Honestly, I hated the book, but it’s like a train wreck….you just keep reading to see how horrible it’s going to get.

Non-Fiction

In her long-awaited new book, Sheila Walsh equips women with a practical method for connecting with God’s strength in the midst of struggle. From daily frustrations that can feel like overwhelming obstacles to hard challenges that turn into rock-bottom crises, women will find the means to equip themselves for standing strong with God. Using the spiritual applications of confession, prayer, and meditation on Scripture to form a daily connection to Jesus, women will learn how to experience new joy as a child of God who is fully known, fully loved, and fully accepted.   In In the Middle of the Mess, Walsh reveals the hardened defenses that kept her from allowing God into her deepest hurts and shares how entering into a safe place with God and practicing this daily connection with him have saved her from the devil’s prowling attacks. Though we will never be completely “fixed” on earth, we are continually held by Jesus, whatever our circumstances.

In another coffee-shop style book (where the author seems to be conversing with the reader over coffee and pastries, rather than preaching to the reader), we hear from a woman who has walked through the darkness and lived to share her story.  Grief and depression nearly broke her, but she found healing and strength ‘in the middle of {her} mess,’ and she wants us to, too.  She encourages those suffering hard times to really let out that anger, fear, sadness, and other raw emotions – talk to God about it – because he will take it in and give us what we need.  Whether we do it with others, or just unload ourselves onto God, it’s about knowing that you’re not alone in the middle of it all.

How to Be Married (Jo Piazza)
At age thirty-four, Jo Piazza got her romantic-comedy ending when she met the man of her dreams on a boat in the Galápagos Islands and was engaged three months later. But before long, Jo found herself riddled with questions. How do you make a marriage work in a world where you no longer need to be married? How does an independent, strong-willed feminist become someone’s partner—all the time?  In the tradition of writers such as Nora Ephron and Elizabeth Gilbert, award-winning journalist and nationally bestselling author Jo Piazza writes a provocative memoir of a real first year of marriage that will forever change the way we look at matrimony.  A travel editor constantly on the move, Jo journeys to twenty countries on five continents to figure out what modern marriage means. Throughout this stunning, funny, warm, and wise personal narrative, she gleans wisdom from matrilineal tribeswomen, French ladies who lunch, Orthodox Jewish moms, Swedish stay-at-home dads, polygamous warriors, and Dutch prostitutes.  Written with refreshing candor, elegant prose, astute reporting, and hilarious insight into the human psyche, How to Be Married offers an honest portrait of an utterly charming couple. When life throws more at them than they ever expected—a terrifying health diagnosis, sick parents to care for, unemployment—they ultimately create a fresh understanding of what it means to be equal partners during the good and bad times.  Through their journey, they reveal a framework that will help the rest of us keep our marriages strong, from engagement into the newlywed years and beyond.

Need a unique wedding gift this year?  'How to Be Married' provides insight from multiple worldviews and cultures about marriage and couple-dom.  As someone deep into the years of marriage and kids, but with a long way (hopefully!) yet to go, it's always interesting to see what the 'experts' have to say.  The author doesn't profess to be one, and this book isn't like all of the others.  It will have you chuckling as you read her, at times caustic, wit and comments on the opinions of married couples from around the world.  I didn't agree with everything I read, and neither will you, but I'll bet that we pick and choose different things - and that's part of the beauty of this book.  It acknowledges and accepts different cultural backgrounds and personality differences, and tries to pull the best of the best wisdom from all of them...for us to try and better ourselves.

*I received some of these books in exchange for an honest review.*