This Month's Featured Resources...

Ten Days of RoadschoolingWWII Activity PackLego Easter Mardi Gras

Friday, February 26

Jackson (Johnny Cash & June Carter)


It's Fan Field Trip Friday!!!   
Want to get your trip featured?  


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We finally made it to the Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson! You remember him, right? You may have met him on the $20 bill!     Every year, on the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, January 8th, the Hermitage kindly offers a day of free admission to the public. Unfortunately, it’s often icy, snowy, or super cold. This year we only had to deal with some clouds and slight drizzle. (I’m actually a fan of days like that--less crowds!)
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When we arrived, we were immediately greeted by President Jackson himself, and his lovely wife Rachel. They were more than accommodating. President Jackson even let my son, Will, try on his hat!    Since we were there to celebrate victory at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815, we were also greeted by soldiers showing off their guns. Then we were ushered through the Battle of New Orleans displays. Cue the music! (Actually, there wasn’t any music, but I thought they should be playing the Battle of New Orleans.) Andrew and Rachel were decked out in their finest for the celebration.
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The biggest hit of the day happened to be an interactive Battle of New Orleans display table. The children were guided through the the Battle of New Orleans through a touch screen experience. They could read along as they were told interesting facts about the battle and asked thought-provoking questions. They learned about Jackson’s strategy and winning the battle against all odds. 
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Then we toured the rest of President Jackson’s museum. We walked through a timeline of his career and journey to the White House. He is the only president who's lifetime spanned an entire era of history--the Jacksonian Era.    At the end, we paused to write something new we had learned about President Jackson during our stroll through the museum. My five year old daughter did a lovely portrait!  
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Next, we were off to see the mansion built for Jackson. It was beautiful. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos inside, but we did snap of a picture of the outside when there was a break in the rain.    While we were waiting in line, we even got to meet an old friend of Andrew Jackson’s, Judge John Overton. He told us about a time that he and Jackson got into an argument because he was a man of reason, while Andrew Jackson was a man of action. He never stopped to reason when action would do.   
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  Our last stop was the garden, one of Jackson’s favorite spots, even though his wife was the one who bore the brunt of the gardening work. Even in the winter, there were enough flowers peeping out to make it a beautiful stop. I would love to have a garden like that!
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  Finally, we paid our respects at the grave of President Jackson and his wife Rachel. Jackson had the forethought to set aside a small cemetary for some of his future descendants as well.
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Jackson’s closest servant and slave was also buried there. (One of the controversial things about Jackson was his stance on slavery.) Although your experience may not be exactly the same if you visit a different day, The Hermitage is always a beautiful place to visit and get swept back in time. 

You can imagine what it would have been like to be alive at such a pivotal point in American history. Stroll through the gardens and take in some fresh air as you dream. Just make sure to come back to the present and make some history of your own.   May the Road Rise to Meet You, Tara (a.k.a. Minivan Mom)   

  What do you remember most about President Jackson? Who was your favorite president?  

Unit Resources

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IMG_9505Tara is a homeschool mom who lives in Nashville, TN with her family of five. Visit her at MinivanMinistries.com, where she blogs about making Jesus the driving force in your family. Her goal is to help you help your kids fall in love with Jesus. You can also hang out with her on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and follow MinivanMin on Periscope. Thanks for reading!  

Thursday, February 25

Free (Train)


Organic pecan butter is one of my favorite treats.  It's also $18 per teeny-tiny jar.   Heck, the organic pecans alone are $16 / lb, on sale, at the store.  I love to eat well, but I'm also cheap.  It's a constant battle...
Luckily, we have several pecan trees in our yard....and children who proclaim to be 'bored.'  Well, they used to.  I don't think they'll make that mistake next year.  Some years, the pecans fall like rain.  Other years, there's nary a nut to be found.  This was a feasting year.
Picking up pecans in the fallen leaves is a bit like Mother Nature's Ultimate Word Search puzzle.  *chuckle*  But the payoff is excellent.  After some negotiations, we agreed to pay the children a percentage of what we saved by making our own pecan butter, and they decided to pick up a few more buckets, in spite of the visual difficulty.
After being cracked and blown (removes them from the shell by machine; sort of), we were left with sixty pounds of pecans!  That may sound like a lot, and it is, but we still had oodles of them on the ground....which the squirrels will be happy to take care of for us.  We spent a week separating shell from meat, and then set to work on the pecan butter.  We used the shell pieces in our winter garden to aerate the soil and provide some nutrients for the coming spring.
As we separated shell from meat, we tossed the whole meats into a separate bowl.  These will be used for pecan pie and other recipes that call for whole meats in the future.  The smaller pieces were being used to make nut butter.  However, the food processor chose this week to stop working (guess what mom got for Christmas...), so we used the old salad shooter to crush the meats.  It worked fairly well, but I'd recommend a food processor if you have one.  Then we mixed in the spices and jarred the butter.  You'll find the full recipe below.
All in all, not a bad deal.  Mom got several jars of good-quality, homemade pecan butter, and the boys got their new Lego Ninjago set they'd been saving up for.  .............and they all lived happily ever after.

Cocoa-Cinnamon Pecan Butter
  1. Soak the nut meats overnight in water.  This will make the nuts easier to process, and easier to digest.
  2. Drain the water.
  3. Pour the meats in your food processor (or salad shooter, as the case may be).
  4. Chop them into teeny tiny bits.
  5. For every cup of chopped nuts, mix in 1 Tbsp of cinnamon and 2 Tbsp of cocoa powder.
  6. Stir well.  Really well.  Mash as you stir.  Then, stir again.
  7. Spoon the mixture into jars.  Mash and squash as you spoon it in there.
  8. Refrigerate and use within a month.  
  9. Freeze the extra jars.  Use them within a month after thawing.

Monday, February 22

Across the Universe (Fiona Apple)



March 2nd is Read Across America Day!  Schools across the nation will dress up in Dr. Seuss costumes, read their wackiest stories, and celebrate as silly-ly as possible!  (It's Dr. Seuss...in his honor, I can make up a word!)  

We have compiled some of the best resources for celebrating Dr. Seuss' birthday, and sprinkled in some extra goodies for learning United States geography and culture.  Lots of freebies, including an exclusive bundle made just for our readers!

#readacrossamerica



Read Across America Resources & Games




More Resources for Studying the United States

  • National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A.  - Includes fun facts, amazing photos, conservation information and more!
  • How the States Got Their Shapes - These interesting videos explore how our states' borders evolved–and continue to change.
  • Enchanted Homeschooling Mom - State Study Packs - Each weekly installment is designed to stand on its own after the Introductory Pack and Region Pack, so you can teach the state packs as they are released or in any order that you wish.
  • Little Passports - United States & World versions - Monthly travel & education subscription box.  We have exhausted both series, and the kids still pull out their goodies to play!
  • Resource List of science, history, and geography supplements...all the fun stuff!
  • United States Postcard Swap - from My Learning Table
  • Get a free copy of our Read Across the U.S.A. bundle!  This packet has reading suggestions for each state, broken down by grade level, and book report forms for several different types of books.  A coloring sheet and other fun extras are included, too!
  • Trip Buzz - This one is new for us, but it looks like a great resource for things to do in thousands of cities (with a focus on specific themes like kid-friendly, free/cheap, date ideas, etc.)


Friday, February 19

Leave Me In the Dark (Keri Noble)


FAN FIELD TRIP FRIDAY! (scroll to bottom for unit study)  
In the science world, the study of fungi is known as mycology. Fungi (which is plural for fungus) were once thought to be a kind of plant; however, today they are considered to be more closely related to animals. Fungi (along with bacteria) are our primary decomposers, meaning they break down plant and animal material. 

Fungi are very important, not only because they are decomposers (can you imagine a world where dead things did not break down?), but also because it is through fungi that we get yeast to make our bread rise and antibiotics to make us healthy when we get sick. Some fungi are edible, but many are poisonous. 

Did you know that people with penicillin allergies generally cannot work at a mushroom farm?    
  • The reason people with penicillin allergies tend not to be able to work at mushroom farms is due to the sheer number of molds that mushrooms are susceptible to.

 Hmm.. what else did we learn on trip to the Whitecrest Mushrooms factory in Ontario, Canada?
  • Mushrooms can carry a variety of diseases, so growing them in a sterilized environment keeps them clean.  The farm we went to had a big fire a while back and since then moved away from wooden beds (which apparently are still quite common) to these metal beds we see here.
They were stacked I think about five high with about two feet clearance between each row.   Whitecrest only grows cremini and portabella mushrooms, and these mushrooms can double their size in a 24 hour period.   I got the impression that if you buy these types of mushrooms in southwestern Ontario, they are most likely from Whitecrest, just sold and packaged differently depending on the needs of the marketer.
This section of the bed has been treated with salt.   It kills the mold and gets rid of "wet spots."  The picture beside it is another illness mushrooms get.  They have to keep a strong handle on mold because if they don't, it can quickly overwhelm a mushroom farm.   That gets really expensive, really quickly!

I happen to love mushrooms, and made that fact clear to the presenters, and they graciously allowed us to sample their merchandise.   Mmmm... Fresh picked creminis... YUM!    We had a hard time restraining ourselves after we got permission to enjoy them.   I thought it interesting how many of the moms along didn't like mushrooms and the noses wrinkled when we enjoyed them.

Did you know that if you leave a mushroom in the sun for five minutes you will get your daily dose of Vitamin D?
  • You can even run them under a UV light, and they will get 300% Vitamin D; that will carry over into the store until they are purchased!
  • To get more Vitamin D into foods, Whitecrest Mushrooms is investigating ways to make more use of mushrooms, from putting them into burgers, grinding them into a powder, and adding them to breads, stews, soups, and other things.


Each of the children in our group was able to enjoy a ride on the lift up and down the racks.   My son tried hard to convince me to go on it but I'm not into heights and therefore declined the invitation.

We were taken through the various sections of the plant.   From the growing rooms, to how they move the mushrooms from one part to another, the chilling room (if you change the temperature of a mushroom too quickly you will lose one week off it's life), to the packaging area.   It was quite a fascinating tour.  I have to admit, I hoped that they would send us each home with a package of mushrooms....

Safety Note :  Please do not eat mushrooms unless you know for sure what species they are, and that they are safe!!!

Mushrooms & Fungi Unit
Activities


Books





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Today's fan field trip comes from Annette @ A Net In Time.    She is a multi-faceted person who is a lover of God, pastor's wife, mother of one, reader of books, blogger, raiser of rabbits, home-educating parent who reads much, reviews materials, laughs often and somehow manages to get through her days by the grace of God. You can find her at A Net In Time (schooling/review blog), AT Home Pets (rabbit blog), and Fish and Cans (bible/devotional Blog).   

Thursday, February 18

Milk (Garbage)


Homemade Cottage Cheese Recipe (makes 1 1/2 lbs)

Ingredients
  • 1 gallon pasteurized milk, skim or whole
  • 1/8 teaspoon calcium chloride diluted in 1/4 cup water (if using store bought milk)*
  • 1 package direct-set mesophilic starter, 1/4 teaspoon bulk mesophilic starter or 4 ounces prepared mesophilic starter
  • 1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet (or 1/4 rennet tablet) dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water

Helpful Resources :

Directions
  • Warm the milk to 72F.  If using calcium chloride*, add it now.  Add the starter and mix thoroughly.  I usually make this cheese in a large, stainless steel pot with a very thick bottom.  If you have a large double boiler, that might also be helpful.
  • Add one tablespoon of the diluted rennet,and mix thoroughly with a gentle up and down motion.  (Tip : Use a potato masher to blend the rennet up and down through the milk.)  Cover and let set at 72F for four to eight hours, or until the curd coagulates.  The curd will be rather soft.
  • Cut the curd into 1/2 inch cubes.  Allow to set, undisturbed, for ten minutes.   Use a long knife that reaches all the way to the bottom of your pan, and move smoothly and gently – don’t tear the curd.  Try to keep your cubes as uniform as possible so your cheese cooks evenly.
  • Increase the heat by three degrees every five minutes, until the temperature reaches 90F, stirring gently to prevent the curds from matting.  If you have a large double boiler, you may prefer to use that instead for more even, gentle heat.
  • Increase the heat by one degree per minute, until the temperature reaches 110F, stirring gently to keep the curds from matting.  Again, watch your heat and try not to heat too fast. 
  • Maintain the temperature at 110F for twenty minutes, or until the curds are sufficiently cooked and no longer have a pudding-like interior.  Stir every few minutes.
  • When the curds are sufficiently cooked, let them settle to the bottom of the pot for five minutes.
  • Pour off the whey.  Pour the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth.  Tie the corners of the cheesecloth into a knot.  To make the cheese less sour, wash the curds by dipping the bag several times into a bowl of cool water.
  • Let the bag drain for several minutes.  Then, rinse the bag in a bowl of ice water to cool and place the bag in a colander to drain for five minutes.
  • Untie the bag and place the curds in a bowl.  Break up any pieces that have matted.  If desired, add the heavy cream to produce a creamier texture.   Add the salt and herbs to taste, if desired.
  • Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to one week.


*Note :  This cheese needs to sit for several hours to culture, so make sure you plan ahead so you have enough time.  It takes anywhere from six to ten hours, start to finish, with a four hour rest time.  It doesn’t require constant attention.


*Note : Calcium chloride is added to milk that has been commercially pasteurized because the heating process decreases the amount of calcium in the milk, which means that the rennet can’t do its job as well.  To pasteurize milk at home, heat the milk in a clean, non-reactive pot to 145F, and hold it at that temperature for 30 minutes.  Then, chill in an ice bath to 40F, and refrigerate until ready to use.  I’m not going to tell you whether to pasteurize your milk or not – we use raw milk – freedom of food choice is yours.

Tuesday, February 16

Spring Into a New Book!


Since Valentine's Day just passed...I'm going to start out today with a romance book...but scroll down for Southern Fiction, Mystery & Thriller, and Non-Fiction new releases!  You won't be disappointed!

Romance
Amish Sweethearts (Leslie Gould)
They've been best friends for years, but as high school ends, Zane Beck can't help but look at his Amish neighbor, Lila Lehman, with different eyes. Her controlling father sees only one future for Lila, though, and arranges for her to be courted by an upstanding young Amish man. When Zane sees the two together, his plans for the future crumble, and he impulsively enlists in the Army, following in his father's footsteps.  However, the passing of years and the distance between them isn't enough to halt their now hidden feelings for each other. If being together used to be difficult, it's now impossible, especially with the Amish opposed to war. Zane's service takes a dramatic turn when he's sent to Afghanistan. Being on the front line and the reality of taking a life has him questioning whether he can continue to serve or not. But all choices have consequences--both his and hers. With Lila preparing to marry another, will these one-time sweethearts ever find the life together that they both still long for?

Zane and Lila were characters in Amish Promises (the first book in this series), though that book focused more on their parents.  They were children then, but have matured into adults with a deeper relationship in this second book.  Since one of them is Amish, and the other is not, you can imagine the difficult position this puts them both in.  Lila tries to resolve the situation by dating a nice Amish boy, but can not get over her feelings for Zane.  Zane tries to move on by joining the army, where he, too, is exposed to new relationships.  As the Amish are a peaceful community, and against, war, this puts another check into the minus column for any chance of Zane to have a relationship with Lila.
There are some Pennsylvania Dutch words sprinkled through the book, but it is not overwhelmed by them, as I’ve seen in other Amish books.  The Amish in this book are depicted much more realistically, too (or what I imagine to be realistic – they seem more like real people), rather than being put up on a pedestal.
While Amish Sweethearts can be read as a stand alone book, you will probably want to read Amish Promises, the first book in the Neighbors of Lancaster County series, first.  It also looks like this book is set up to be part of a trilogy, so expect to see more from this author as we follow some of the characters (maybe the ones currently in their Rumspringa?) into mature relationships.  Also, I’d like to see what becomes of the friendship between Adam and Trudy (Zane and Lila’s younger siblings), if the third book fast forwards another decade.  I don’t want to say much more because that will spoil the ending of this book!
Book 1 in the series – Amish Promises

The Hearts We Mend (Kathryn Springer)

Thirteen years ago, Evie's firefighter husband was killed in the line of duty, leaving her to raise their young son, Cody, alone. Now, Cody is marrying the love of his life, and as he packs up his belongings, the house feels as empty as Evie's heart. But for all her planning and mad organizational skills, Evie could never have anticipated the dramatic shift her life is about to make.Tattooed, rough-around-the-edges Jack raises quite a few eyebrows in the tight-knit community of Banister Falls. Where Evie's life is stream-lined, Jack's approach to living is moment-by-moment. But as Evie gets drawn into Jack's world—a world that isn't as safe or predictable as the one she's worked so hard to create—he challenges her to open her eyes to the problems outside the walls of the church.  Jack doesn't make Evie feel comfortable, but he definitely makes her feel something. Something she hasn't felt since Max passed away—or, maybe ever. Because even though Jack isn't anything like her late husband, he just might be everything she needs.
I hadn’t read The Dandelion Field before reading this book, so came into the story a little bit behind.  I do feel like I would have been able to connect much better with the main characters if I had read it first, and will be going back to catch up on the back story now.  Bannister Falls is a small town where all the people are connected, either by marriage or friendship.  It seems like a nice small town, the kind where folks genuinely care about each other.  One of the big themes underlying this book is letting go – letting go of the past, letting go of plans for the future, and just surrendering to the moment.  It is set up for another book, perhaps it will be a trilogy?  Either way, until I have gone back and read the first story, to get the full background, I still felt a sense of disconnect with the characters.  I received this book in exchange for an honest review.
Book 1 in the series - The Dandelion Field


Change of Heart (Courtney Walsh)
A Colorado senator’s wife, Evelyn Brandt seems to have it all. But her carefully constructed life comes toppling down when the FBI crashes her society brunch with news that her husband has been arrested for embezzlement, and he’s far from repentant. It turns out this was only the start of his indiscretions―for which he has little regret.  As the weeks following the scandal turn into months, Evelyn withdraws, even shirking her duties with the philanthropic Valentine Volunteers. The inquisitive women of the group are determined not to let Evelyn’s divorce destroy her. They have big plans for her to use her long-forgotten artistic talent to reimagine the city’s iconic lamppost hearts. But doing so will force Evelyn to work closely with Trevor Whitney, her ex-husband’s former best friend. Though she and Trevor used to be close―and he’s been letting her hide in his guesthouse―his gruffness conveys his unease with the situation.  Amid the beauty of Trevor’s farm and the comfort of a paintbrush, Evelyn starts to reclaim the dreams she sacrificed to become the perfect politician’s wife. And as creativity inspires them both, Whit begins to see the girl he fell in love with before his friend―and his own mistakes―stole his chance. Possibilities for a new beginning emerge, but long-kept secrets threaten to ruin everything. After so much time, is a change of heart too much to hope for?


Change of Heart is book two in this series, following PaperHearts.  Paper Hearts was about the dichotomy of the good and bad in life, and how to become comfortable with both.  Change of Heart follows that trend with much more maturity.  This time, the characters are surrendering their personal will, and their dreams, in maturity and responsibility, as they discover a deeper understanding of self.  The beginning of the book was pretty slow, but it was worth sticking through to the end.
Book 1 in the Series - Paper Hearts


Room for Hope (Kim Vogel Sawyer)

Neva Shilling has a heavy load of responsibility while her husband travels to neighboring communities and sells items from his wagon. In his absence, she faithfully runs the Shilling Mercantile, working to keep their business strong as the Depression takes its toll, and caring for their twins.  When a wagon pulls up after supper, Neva and her children rush out—and into the presence of the deputy driving a wagon carrying three young children. The deputy shocks her with the news that Warren and his wife have died, insisting it was their last request that the three children go live with “Aunt Neva.”  Neva’s heart is shattered as she realizes that Warren’s month-long travels were excuses for visits with his secret family. She wants nothing more than to forget Warren, but can she abandon these innocent children to an orphanage? Yet if she takes them in, will she ever be able to see them as more than evidence of her husband’s betrayal and love them the way God does?

I love Kim Vogel Sawyer’s books.  She has a style of writing that transports you to the setting and makes you feel like a part of the story.  In this one, I was transported back to the Great Depression, in rural Kansas.  (Many of her books are set in Kansas, which means that I truly _can_ feel like I’m there, since they are places we see daily.)  Her quiet, peaceful life is turned upside down by the unthinkable actions of her husband.  She is devastated, and you as the reader are angry for her.  I like how the story is told through different points of view, allowing us to get inside each character’s head.  This is one of those stories that you’ll struggle to put down at bedtime!  I’d be interested in seeing a sequel of how these new relationships play out over time.

Southern Fiction
The Secret to Hummingbird Cake (Celeste Fletcher McHale)
When all else fails, turn to the divine taste of hummingbird cake.  In the South you always say “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am.” You know everybody’s business. Football is a lifestyle not a pastime. Food—especially dessert— is almost a religious experience. And you protect your friends as fiercely as you protect your family— even if the threat is something you cannot see.  In this spot-on Southern novel brimming with wit and authenticity, you’ll laugh alongside lifelong friends, navigate the sometimes rocky path of marriage, and roll through the outrageous curveballs that life sometimes throws . . . from devastating pain to absolute joy. And if you’re lucky, you just may discover the secret to hummingbird cake along the way.

Set in a small Louisiana town, this is a story of three best friends and the struggles they walk through together.  It’s told from Carrigan’s point of view, with a lot of extra humor and drama thrown in from her friends Ella Rae and Laine.  They get into all sorts of hijinks, the kind that only life long best girl friends can find, and will leave you laughing all the way through!  The book was a little slow to get started, but it was worth plowing through the beginning.  The main theme of the book is friendship, and we see the three friends through all walks of fortune and struggle.  Like all true southern women, they are loyal throughout, putting the bonds of sisterhood above all else.  I laughed and cried as they got themselves into and out of their “unfortunate situations.”   There is an underlying theme of fidelity and marital struggle, too.  And if you’re wondering how on earth the Hummingbird Cake fits into the whole scenario, you’ll want to pay close attention to Laine’s character.  If you’re a fan of southern chick lit, such as Fannie Flagg, Billie Letts, or Dixie Cash, you will probably love this new Southern chick lit novel!
Another note :  I had never heard of Hummingbird Cake, and was curious.  It is a spice cake made with pineapples and bananas.  Also, the cake supposedly got its name because it makes you hummmmm with delight, like a little hummingbird flapping its wings quickly.  If you want to make your own Hummingbird Cake, you can use this recipe from Paula Deen at the Food Network.  It’s actually quite tasty!

The MisAdventures of Miss Lily series (Kalan Chapman Lloyd)

Three stories that follow good-girl Lily and bad-boy Cash from their high school years well into adulthood.  Mystery, hijinks, and a whole lotta southern lovin' follow these two and their friends!  These reads are as comfortable as a glass of sweet tea on a hot summer day - you'll find yourself laughing and rooting for the girls as they skirt the law in the fallout of this on-again-off-again relationship.  Just read 'em!

Mystery & Thriller
Sugar Scars (Travis Norwood)
Living after the apocalypse really isn’t that hard for most of the survivors. The virus killed all but 1 in 10,000. The few remaining people are left in a world of virtually unlimited resources. Grocery stores overflowing with food and drink. Thousands of empty houses to pick from. But one survivor, a nineteen-year-old girl, requires more than simple food, water and shelter. As a type 1 diabetic her body desperately needs insulin to stay alive. With civilization gone, no one manufactures it anymore. She hoards all the insulin she can find, but every day marches toward the end of her stash of vials. She has a choice. Accept her fate and death, or tackle the almost insurmountable task of extracting and refining the insulin herself. Brilliant scientists struggled to make the first insulin. What hope does a high school dropout have?

This was a fabulous book - much better than expected!  I was forced to lose nearly an entire night's sleep to finish it.  :)  It's not your typical apocalypse book, and I love how it brings a sense of hopefulness.  Great for high school and above - mostly because of some sexual content.

The Newsmakers (Lis Wiehl)
Erica Sparks is a beautiful and ambitious reporter who has just landed her dream job at Global News Network in New York. And while it was hard to leave Jenny, her cherished eight-year-old daughter, in the custody of her ex-husband, Erica is determined to succeed in the cutthroat world of big-time broadcasting. She can only hope her troubled past won’t come back to sabotage her dreams.  Although the wounds from her divorce are still fresh, Erica can’t deny the chemistry between her and her new producer, the handsome and empathic Greg Underwood. But a relationship is the last thing she wants right now.  On her very first assignment, Erica inadvertently witnesses—and films—a horrific tragedy, scooping all the other networks. Mere weeks later, another tragedy strikes—again, right in front of Erica and her cameras. Her career skyrockets overnight, but Erica is troubled. Deeply. This can’t just be coincidence. But what is it?  Erica will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. But she has to make sure disaster—and her troubled past—don’t catch up with her first.

The first thing I’d say about this book is that, while it’s touted as a Christian-themed thriller, it’s really not overtly religious in nature.  There are a couple of subtle mentions of religion and God, but that’s about it.  Also, and perhaps why it’s marketed here, for a thriller, there was very little foul language, and no sex or graphic violence.
The second thing, and first that I noticed, is the point of view the story is written in.  It’s annoying.  Third person present tense makes it hard to connect with a character, and I like to get directly involved in a book.  Plus, it jumps all over the place at times.  I’ve never read anything else from this author, so I’m not sure if it’s her standard writing style, or if she was trying something new.  It didn’t work for me.  While the storyline was easily predictable, based on the back of the book, it still had some twists and turns that kept me reading to the end.  One thing the author did bring to the story was the intimate knowledge of journalism and a working newsroom, which contributed to the authenticity of the setting.  She is a news commentator, and conveys the emotions and the minute details that make it a little bit easier to get into the story.  The journalist headquarters is set up in the heart of the city, amid big news stations, and the aggression of working in such a place definitely comes through.  After reading this, had I ever wanted to be a journalist, I would be re-thinking it.  There’s conflict and romance, workplace struggle, and the mystery of the news events, but the biggest mystery of all is how the main character plays into the role that has been created for her by the higher ups, and how the puppeteers will play it all out in the end.

Non-Fiction
Sounds Like Teen Spirit (Tim English)
This 2016 edition of Sounds Like Teen Spirit provides hundreds of pairings of songs that appear to have "borrowed" their melodies from earlier songs.  Readers will discover the music that influnced the songs of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and many more. Sounds Like Teen Spirit covers recent plagirism cases involveing Robin Thicke, Sam Smith and Coldplay as well as famous cases such as when George Harrison was sued over his song "My Sweet Lord" by the publishers of the Chiffons' "He's So Fine" Readers will never hear the familiar songs in quite the same way after reading Sounds Like Teen Spirit.  For example, the Doors' "Hello I Love You" has the same melody and the Kinks' "All Day and All Night," and the riff that powered Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is a variation on the guitar riff from Boston's "More than a Feeling." Sounds Like Teen Spirit explains that creative artists are influenced by a wide and often surprising range of sources.  For instance, John Lennon's song "Imagine" may have have been influenced by a novelty song that his father recorded to cash in on his son's fame, and Bob Marley's "Buffalo Soldier" contains the melody from "The Banana Splits Theme!"

The author does a fantastic job of conveying some of the stupidest legal battles I've ever read about.  There is nothing new under the sun...I just told my friend, who writes children's bestsellers, that the other day.  He was a bit offended...but it's the same thing as the topic of this book.  Art is art - it may not always be original, but if you take someone's premise and expound upon it, and make it better, that doesn't make it any less artistic.  In cases of blatant plagarism, obviously there should be some repercussion; but just because a riff sounds the same, or the words "hey you" are used in both songs, does not mean it was plagarized.  There are only so many computations, so many ways that things can be put together.  And the people that hold the rights to the 'original' songs, probably were not the first to develop them either.  That said, to loop back around, the author does a great job of making this book interesting, and pointed me in the direction of a few "new" promising artists...

I received some, but not all, of these books in exchange for an honest review.