This Month's Featured Resources...

Revolutionary WarScrap Crafting Lego History Latin Calendar

Monday, July 24

Slow Cook July

July : Sweet Summer Treats
Learn the Crockpot Basics!!

Caramelized Peaches
  • 6 peaches, sliced
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1/4 c whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • ice cream (optional)
  1. Coat peaches in lemon juice.
  2. Whisk together sugar, butter, cream, and cinnamon.  Add peaches and coat well.
  3. Cover and cook on low 4-6 hours.
  4. Serve with ice cream, if desired.

Lemon-Berry Cake
  • 3 eggs (at room temp)
  • 1 c fresh berries (blue, black, rasp, or any combination)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/3 c all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 c milk
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • powdered sugar (optional)
  1. In bowl, mix 1/2 c sugar, flour, zest, salt, milk, lemon juice, butter, and egg yolks (only yolk).
  2. In another bowl, beat egg whites until they form peaks.  Mix into batter bowl.
  3. Pour batter over berries and 1 Tbsp sugar in crockpot.  
  4. Cover and cook on high 2 1/2 - 3 hours.
  5. Uncover and cook 1 hour.  Serve sprinkled with powdered sugar, if desired.

Wednesday, July 19

Battle of New Orleans (Johnny Horton)

At the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport, we got to see battle gear!  The boys are all about weapons and war right now (old enough to think it's cool; young enough to still be innocent), so they got really interested in the Battle of New Orleans and the War of 1812 after seeing these exhibits.

The War of 1812 was America's "second war for independence."  It was only with the assistance of the pirate Jean Lafitte that Andrew Jackson and his troops held off the British during this important battle.  Since then, he has been known as "the pirate & patriot Jean Lafitte." At the museum, we saw swords, money, uniform hats, and other artifacts leftover from this battle.

Jean Lafitte Resources

Battle of New Orleans Resources

Tuesday, July 18

Doctor Aviation - Family Review

Doctor Aviation
If you’ve followed our journey for any length of time, then you know that aviation is celebrated in a big way around here!  We have multiple aviation-themed field trips each year, and find as many ways to work it into our school day as possible. 

When we first discovered Doctor Aviation, my son began salivating right at the keyboard!  Although it’s a high school level course, I acquiesced, and we are spending a semester doing in-depth studies on multiple facets of aviation.  Some are things we’ve studied in the past, but many of them are far deeper than we’ve taken it before, and there are also off-the-beaten-track topics, too! 

This go-around, we’re primarily using it as a summer unit study, and for the vast majority of his Boy Scouts Aviation Merit Badge.  However, we give this program an A+ and plan to re-subscribe when he gets to high school – as an elective!

The Program
There are fifteen lessons included in the entire semester.  Each one has a video, downloading PDFs, and suggestions for extra learning.

Lessons include :

  • PDF of “To Learn More” suggestions (books, videos, hands-on activities, research, writing assignments, etc)
  • PDF of “Guided Notes” (fill in the blanks / questions about the video)
  • 45-60 minute video
  • Exam Notes / Exams (not included in every lesson)
Each of the videos includes three twenty-minute long sections :
  1. Technical Trivia (about the mechanics of flying itself and being a pilot)
  2. Notable Innovator (about a famous aviator)
  3. Legendary Aircraft (about a specific plane)
I like how the videos cover all three topics, with limited review from previous lessons included as well.  When it became clear that they were a little long for my 10 year old’s attention (even with his interest in flying), we were able to easily break them into three shorter segments to watch separately.  The course combines raw footage and graphics with the lecture format.  ‘Doctor Aviation’ incorporates anecdotes from his actual experiences into the lectures, bringing the concepts to life!

The course covers history, science, vocabulary, and technology, but it also has fun trivia, too – like how the P-51 Mustang got its name!  The lecture format is where my little one got lost, but it is very appropriate for the intended grade level.  As an adult or high school course, this is fabulously done!  It is a very appropriate level of coursework for an elective, and I look forward to having my son take it again when he reaches that level.

Our Experience
If we were going to spread this course out over an entire semester, we would do one lesson per week, and then spend the rest of the week doing written activities and projects pertaining to that lesson.  When we re-subscribe in a few years, this will be how I have him go through the course, as it will be counting for an elective credit then.  Right now, however, my airplane-minded son is only ten years old, and this was his in-depth summer learning project. 

He watched one lesson every other day, completing the accompanying worksheets as he watched it, and then we talked about the program together.  (I also watched and listened, but from the kitchen – usually while doing chores.  This gave him the grown-up experience of taking the course alone.)  On the ‘off’ day, he did research to further explore topics that had peaked his interest from the previous day’s lecture.  Although some of the material was over his head (after all, it is intended for high school students and adults), it was not so much so that he could not enjoy it and learn quite a bit from it.

Completing this course gave him all of the background knowledge required for the Aviation Merit Badge for Boy Scouts.  We then took a trip to a local airport for the hands-on component.  I’m all about combining school with badges, as y’all well know!  

Just the Facts

  • $99 / semester
  • Online-streaming
  • Downloadable / printable components
  • Exams offered
  • Counts as a semester of high school elective credit

See what others are saying about DoctorAviation at the Homeschool Review Crew!

Crew DisclaimerAviation Course {Doctor Aviation Reviews}

Monday, July 17

Teaching Kids About Herbs : Calendula

July's herb is Calendula........the magic skin herb that will soothe your sunburn!

Just the Facts
  • Plant Description : Calendula flowers are often tall, with green leaves and yellow-orange flowers.
  • Parts to use : Flowers
  • Used primarily for : Bee sting, cuts / sores, skin inflammation, sunburn
  • You can make : Tea, salve, oil, lip balm

  • Calendula Salve : Mix 2 ounces of dried calendula with 1 cup olive oil.  Simmer 20 minutes on low heat (with your parent’s help).  Melt ½ ounce beeswax into a different pan and then pour in the herbal mixture to make a cream.  (If it is too hard, add oil.  If it is too soft, add beeswax.)  Spread on skin as needed.
  • Calendula Oil : Put herbs (dried herbs work better than fresh) into a glass jar and cover with oil.  Set into a cool, dark place and shake daily.  Leave 3-5 days before straining out flowers.  Store oil in a glass jar in a cool, dark place.  Place 3 drops oil in ear for earache, as needed.  Rub onto cuts / scrapes  / rashes, as needed. 

Do it Yourself!
  • DIY Resources :  Use the hardware resources listed here, along with dried calendula and beeswax.
  • Not ready to DIY? :   Try the Calendula Cream, Calendula Oil, or Calendula Salve.
  • Fun Bonus : Calendula was the original yellow dye for cloth.  Make a bit pot of very strong calendula tea, then strain out the flowers.  Place your cloth into the tea, add 1 tsp salt, and let simmer on low heat (very low heat) for at least an hour (and up to five hours, depending on how dark you want it).  Rinse cloth out and allow to dry, and you’ve just performed the original method tie-dye!  

Wednesday, July 12

Start Me Up (Rolling Stones)

As a kid, we used to have a pet named "Herman."  Herman was our sourdough starter, kept on the third shelf of the fridge, and everyday he had to be fed, just like a pet.  We loved Herman....he made the tastiest bread!  You, too, can have your own's really quite easy!

A lot of people talk about gluten-free diets, and while it's necessary for some, more people have a gluten-sensitivity.  By properly fermenting the gluten in wheat, it becomes more easily digested as the yeast pre-digests the phytic acid in the wheat, causing fewer issues.  

Sourdough bread can even be considered a health food!  When it's fermented, it unbinds, and makes available, amino acids, complex carbs, B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, and several other trace minerals that our bodies need to function properly.

Many people see the process for making sourdough as overwhelming, but it's really quite simple - and once you get the hang of it, you'll always have fresh, nutrient-laden, bread available.  Added bonus - the smell of fresh bread baking!!

If you read through this and STILL want to skip the first step (making the starter), you can pick up a starter culture.

Step 1 :  Make the Starter

  • 1 c whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c cool water

Day 1 :  Mix flour and water in a glass or steel bowl.  Make sure it is thoroughly mixed.  Cover the container loosely and set it at room temp for 24 hours.

Day 2 :  You might see bubbling, but you might not, within this first day.  Either way, discard 1/2 cup of the starter and add another cup of flour and another 1/2 cup of water.  Cover and let stand at room temp for 24 hours.

Step 2 : Feed the Starter

  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c lukewarm water

Day 3 : You should start to see some bubbling.  This is your baby for the next few days, and you'll be feeding it twice a day (as evenly spaced as possible).  For each feeding, discard 1/2 cup of the starter.  Then add one cup flour and 1/2 cup water and mix thoroughly.  Cover and let stand 12 hours, then repeat.

Day 4 : Repeat Day 3.

Day 5 : Repeat Day 3

Day 6 : If starter is very bubbly and growing, give it one last feeding.  If it is having difficulty growing, continue to repeat Day 3 until it is tangy-smelling, slightly acidic, and full of tiny bubbles.

Day 7 : If Day 6 went well, you may begin to use parts of your starter for baking.  Put the rest of the starter into a crock or other long-term home.  Store it in the refrigerator and feed it regularly - at least once a week.

Step 3 : Bake Your Bread (makes 2 loaves)

  • 1 1/4 c water
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 2 c sourdough starter
  • 4 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

  1. Mix water and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Give the yeast a few minutes to dissolve completely. Stir in the sourdough starter until the starter is mostly dissolved.
  2. Add in flour and salt.  Knead dough.  Add extra flour as needed if dough becomes too sticky (don't add too much).  Dough will be ready when it comes together like a ball in your hand.
  3. Coat mixing bowl with oil, return dough to bowl, cover and let stand at room temp 2 hours (until doubled in size).
  4. Pull out dough and divide into two parts.  Shape each loaf into a pan and let rise another hour.
  5. Bake 10 minutes at 450.
  6. Reduce heat and bake 30 minutes at 400.

Tuesday, July 11

Fascinating Physics - Review

High School science can be intimidating to a homeschool mom, especially one that may not have excelled in this area during her own high school days.  As our son matures, we’ve allowed him to have more student-directed learning…focusing on topics he is most interested in.  Lately, that topic has been Physics, so when Fascinating Education gave us the opportunity to review Fascinating Physics with a one-year subscription, we jumped on it!

The course is geared for high school, but could be used with an advanced 8th grader. It does go off the assumption that the student has a working knowledge of algebra and geometry. (Fascinating Education recommends this course order :  Chemistry, Biology, Physics.)  Fascinating Physics includes 15 lessons, covering over 150 subjects – each with its own video, text script, and assessment.  You can access a course outline to see a more in-depth course explanation for each course on the site.
My son liked the course well enough that it was the first thing he asked to do each day.  He logged in, completed the videos and assignments, and then he would ‘teach’ me about everything he had learned!  (There is no need for both a student and parent account – everything is mainstreamed within one account.)  One of the aspects he liked about the first lessons was how they applied the science to forensics, which is something he's recently shown an interest in.  In the above photo, with the graph, we are learning about how body temperature can tell time of death.

The Lessons include:
  • Lesson 1: Movement
  • Lesson 2: Vectors
  • Lesson 3: Forces
  • Lesson 4: Energy-Work-Power
  • Lesson 5: Circular Motion
  • Lesson 6: Fluids and Gases
  • Lesson 7: Waves
  • Lesson 8: Light, Part 1
  • Lesson 9: Light, Part 2
  • Lesson 10: Light, Part 3
  • Lesson 11: Electrical Charges
  • Lesson 12: Moving Electrical Charges
  • Lesson 13: Electrical Currents
  • Lesson 14: The Atom
  • Lesson 15: The Nucleus

The lessons center around videos.  They can be lengthy at times, but there is a great tool on the side of the screen where it breaks each segment into sub-segments.  This is handy for if you want to pause and come back later, or if you need to spend a bit more time on a particular concept.  If you have to stop midway through a video, your account will remember where and take you right back there to pick it up later. 

Each lesson also includes a downloadable / printable PDF script of the video, complete with all of the visual information.  This was SO helpful to my son – especially when he wanted to print something out to ‘teach’ me later.  (It’s not uncommon for me to feign ignorance to allow him the opportunity to teach me something – teachers do it all the time in school when they have students teach other students.  It helps to cement concepts within the brain; plus, if needed, I will occasionally point out where he has something not quite right.)

Finally, each lesson has an interactive assessment to review the material.  Links to the answer explanations are included so that the student can review any incorrect answers.

The videos go at a slow enough pace to follow, but fast enough to prevent boredom.  They are clearly spoken and line up well with the visuals.  Spend some time using educational videos on YouTube, and you’ll know that this is a blessing!  The first couple of lessons are super tedious, and we did have to push through them (he was ready to give up), but it’s because there is a lot of formulaic work and setting up the basics for better comprehension later on.  I’m happy to say that once you get deeper into the program (not too deep), the lessons become considerably more engaging!

One concern I have is that it’s touted as a full year high school science credit.  According to the FAQs, the content in the course is similar to that found in other high schools physics classes.  However, in terms of the amount of material, it doesn't seem to add up to the approximate 120-150 hours of coursework necessary for full year Physics class.  It seems to me that additional resources would need to be added to this class in order for me to feel confident that my student was doing work worthy of a high school course.

The c
ompany also offers Fascinating Chemistry (with labs), Fascinating Biology, Fascinating Medicine, and Fascinating Atoms & Molecules.

Fascinating Education
See what others are saying about Fascinating Education at the Homeschool Review Crew.
Biology, Chemistry & Physics {Fascinating Education Reviews}Crew Disclaimer

Monday, July 10

Cultural Cooking : French

Remember reading A Tale of Two Cities?  On July 14, 1789, troops stormed the Bastille, a medieval fortress and prison in Paris. This was a pivotal event at the beginning of the French Revolution.   Bastille Day is a great French celebration, observed each year on July 14th.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris and the French national flag, or tricolor, are important symbols of Bastille Day. The French national flag is one-and-a-half times as wide as it is tall. It consists of three vertical bands of equal width colored blue, white and red.

In honor of Bastille Day, this month's kitchen adventure hails from France!  Bon appétit!

Coquilles a la Provencale
  • 2 lb sea scallops (cut into 1/4 slices)
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • flour
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp oil
  • Garlic Butter
    • 8 Tbsp unsalted butter
    • 1 tsp chopped garlic
    • 2 Tbsp chopped parsley
    • 1 sliced lemon
  1. Season scallops with salt and pepper, then dip into flour.
  2. In skillet, melt butter and oil. Saute scallops until lightly browned.
  3. In separate pan, clarify butter by melting slowly, skimming off foam.
  4. Spoon butter into a skillet and heat, but do not brown.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in garlic. Pour over scallops. Garnish with parsley and lemon.
Haricots Verts
  • 6 qt water
  • 3 Tbsp salt
  • 3 lb green beans
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • salt
  • black pepper
  1. Bring water and salt to boil.  Drop in beans.
  2. Reduce heat and boil 10 minutes.  Drain.
  3. Melt butter over beans and season with salt and pepper.
Mousse au Chocolat
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 6 oz bakers chocolate, in chunks
  • 3 Tbsp coffee
  • 8 Tbsp soften unsalted butter
  • 4 egg whites
  1. Spray the inside of a ring mold with nonstick spray.
  2. Beat egg yolks and sugar with electric mixer until thick enough to form a ribbon.
  3. In double boiler, melt chocolate with coffee, stirring constantly.
  4. When chocolate has dissolved, bean in butter, making a smooth cream.
  5. Beat chocolate mixture into egg yolk mixture.
  6. In separate bowl, beat egg whites until they form peaks.  Fold into chocolate mixture.
  7. Spoon mousse into coated ring and refrigerate at least four hours before serving.

Friday, July 7

Summer Reads & a GIVEAWAY!

We're starting with fiction, and then hitting non-fiction......mostly because I love a good escape when reading out on the sand...

High as the Heavens (Kate Breslin)
In 1917, Evelyn Marche is just one of many women who has been widowed by the war. A British nurse trapped in German-occupied Brussels, she spends her days working at a hospital and her nights as a waitress in her aunt and uncle's café. Eve also has a carefully guarded secret keeping her in constant danger: She's a spy working for a Belgian resistance group in league with the British Secret Service. When a British plane crashes in Brussels Park, Eve is the first to reach the downed plane and is shocked to discover she recognizes the badly injured pilot. British RFC Captain Simon Forrester is now a prisoner of war, and Eve knows he could be shot as a spy at any time. She risks her own life to hide him from the Germans, but as the danger mounts and the secrets between them grow, their chance of survival looks grim. And even if they do make it out alive, the truth of what lies between them may be more than any love can overcome.

Communication's the heart of the novel and something that we continue to deal with in relationships every single day.  While I usually prefer WWII novels, this one from the WWI-era was equally as thrilling!  It was full of mystery and intrigue, a tangled web of deceit and games that the characters navigate.  And just when you think you've got it all figure out, something else whams you from the side!  There's plenty of romance to go around, and the author has definitely done her research for historical accuracy.  The characters walk through trials of fire and work to bring their relationship home safely...

Abiding Mercy (Ruth Reid)
Sixteen-year-old Faith has worked full-time in her parents’ restaurant since she finished eighth grade. She loves her Amish community—and the romantic attentions of her longtime friend, Gideon.  When her sister seems to be getting too friendly with Englischers, and her parents are in a buggy accident, Faith wants to escape into her dream of joining the church and getting married.  But then a local newspaper runs a story about a child named Adriana who was kidnapped fifteen years earlier, and everything Faith has held true comes into question.  Suddenly the community Faith has known her whole life seems unreal. Can she even trust her own family? And how will she ever find home again if she no longer belongs in the world she knows best?

The male protagonist, Gideon, starts Faith down a journey of uncertainty that turns her world upside down after he sees an article in the newspaper.  The characters are well-developed and easy to relate to, and the book switches back and forth between the English and Amish worlds through the perspectives of the birth mother and Amish-raised child.  There are a number of twists and turns, and when you think you have it all figured out, everything turns on its head again.  This is the first in a series of books, and they promise to be good.  Just a word of warning - this is one of those novels that you're going to be sucked into and not want to put down!

On Love's Gentle Shore (Liz Johnson)
Fifteen years after she left Prince Edward Island, Natalie O'Ryan had no plans to return. But when her fiancé, music producer Russell Jacobs, books their wedding in her hometown and schedules a summer at Rose's Red Door Inn, she sets out to put the finishing touches on the perfect wedding. But she can't possibly prepare for a run-in with Justin Kane--the best friend she left behind all those years ago after promising to stay.  Justin's never forgotten Natalie or the music career he always dreamed of pursuing. He'd been prepared to follow her off the island until his dad died and he was left to run the family dairy farm. He's done the best he can with the life that was thrust upon him--but with Natalie back in the picture, he begins to realize just how much joy he's been missing.  After Natalie's reception venue falls through, she must scramble to find an alternative, and the only option seems to be a barn on Justin's property. As they work together to get the dilapidated building ready for the party, Natalie and Justin discover the groundwork for forgiveness--and that there may be more than an old friendship between them.

I had already read Where Two Hearts Meet and the Red Door Inn, which are the two earlier books in this series, so I was invested in the characters.  However, it is completely fine as a standalone book, and you don't need any of the background to be able to follow it.  This book pulled at me, making me want to finish it all in one sitting, because it was "will she?  won't she?"  all the way to the very end!  The writing is very descriptive, and if you've never been to PEI, you'll feel as though you have.  I don't want to say too much, to not give anything away, but it combines so many classic storylines - and every girl needs a best friend to fall in love with! - in a unique, new way that will keep you rooting for the main characters right up to the last page.  Sadly, this is the final book in this series....I recommend all three!

Gathering the Threads (Cindy Woodsmall)
After three months ofdraus in da Welt, Ariana has returned to Summer Grove, the Old Order Amish community where she was raised for twenty years, and life with her Brenneman family. Skylar Nash, the Englisch-raised young woman is working in Ariana s cafe while getting to know her birth family and their Plain way of life. Skylar's time in Summer Grove has changed her outlook, just as Ariana has grown to see her personal faith in God in a different light than the manner she was taught while growing up. Both women will have to make decisions about their paths and Ariana must decide what role her childhood friend, ex-Amish Quill Schlabach, will play in her life.  Gathering the Threadsis the third and final novel in the Amish of Summer Grove series."

This is the third book in the Amish of Summer Grove series, following up on Ties that Bind and Fraying at the Edge.  While it _can_ be read as a stand-alone book, I highly recommend reading the first two in the series first this time!  (In case you just don't have time, there's a short synopsis at the front, but you won't understand the depth of the characters as much as if you'd read the others first.)  The girls are having a difficult time figuring out where they fit into the world, and whether it is even in the Amish or English world.  I love the characters that the author has so carefully developed, and how their struggles are eventually resolved through faith.  I don't want to give much away, so just know that (after all, it's a novel) there is resolution and a well-thought-out ending, and you won't be disappointed!  It's a good ending to the series.

The Writing Desk (Rachel Hauck)
Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway bestseller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?  With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.  A century earlier, another woman wrote at the same desk with hopes and fears of her own. Born during the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of the old money Knickerbockers. Under the strict control of her mother, her every move is decided ahead of time, even whom she’ll marry. But Birdie has dreams she doesn’t know how to realize. She wants to tell stories, write novels, make an impact on the world. When she discovers her mother has taken extreme measures to manipulate her future, she must choose between submission and security or forging a brand new way all on her own.  Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds, but fate has bound them together in a way time cannot erase.

It's always interesting when you have a dual-timeline book, where they mirror each other.  This story takes place in both the Gilded Age (early 1900s) and present day.  Each of the main characters has a personal struggle to overcome, and does so at the writing desk.  There is mystery and romance in both stories, along with some unforeseen twists, which makes for an interesting read.  I wasn't sure how the stories would connect, or whether they would even have a happy ending, but the story works out.  (No spoilers here.)  Also, while it is a Christian Fiction book, and faith is interwoven into the storyline, it is not overwhelmingly religious.
Sweetbriar Cottage (Denise Hunter)
When Noah and Josephine Mitchell discover their divorce was never actually finalized, their lives are turned upside down.  Following his divorce, Noah gave up his dream job, settling at a remote horse ranch in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia, putting much-needed distance between himself and the former love of his life. But then Noah gets a letter from the IRS claiming he and Josephine are still married. When he confronts Josephine for the first time in months, they discover that she missed the final step in filing the paperwork and they are, in fact, still married.  Josephine is no happier about the news than Noah. Maybe the failed marriage--and okay, the botched divorce--was her fault, but her heart was shattered right alongside his, more than he would ever believe. The sooner they put this marriage behind them, the better for both of their sakes.  But when Josephine delivers the final paperwork to his ranch, the two become stranded in his cottage during the worst spring snowstorm in a decade. Being trapped with Josephine is a test of Noah's endurance. He wrestles with resentment and an unmistakable pull to his wife--still beautiful, still brave, and still more intriguing than any woman he's ever known.  As they find themselves confronted with each other and their shared past, old wounds surface and tempers flare. But when they are forced out into the storm, they must rely on each other in a way they never have before. Josephine finally opens up about her tragic past, and Noah realizes she's never been loved unconditionally by anyone--including him. Will Noah accept the challenge to pursue Josephine's heart? And can she finally find the courage to trust Noah?

This is not a light read, but it's a good one.  Josephine has a very troubled past, and while you may not like her at first, once you understand her past, you'll have considerably more empathy for the situation....just like Noah.  Without giving too much away, it's a story of overcoming struggles, making mistakes, moving forward, and forgiving yourself and others.  The characters deal with divorce, infidelity, and abuse, and they work together to overcome and (finally, as you may have already guessed) to grow together, rather than apart.  It's not about the ending, that we all knew was coming, but the emotionally-charged and sometimes-explosive journey that the characters must make.

Beloved Hope (Traci Peterson)

Hope Flanagan survived the massacre at the Whitman Mission, but at terrible personal cost. Safe now in Oregon City, she lives with her sisters, Grace and Mercy, and Grace's new husband, Alex. As she spends her days tending their flock of sheep, Hope's mind and soul are slowly healing. Yet, though she was once surrounded by suitors, she has no interest in giving her heart again after the man she loved died in her arms.  Hope's precarious new peace is shattered when those responsible for the massacre are captured and put on trial. She is asked to testify against them, but she's not sure she can bear to relive the events of those horrific days.  As Hope struggles to free herself from the pain of her past, Lance Kenner, an Army lieutenant, brings an unexpected ray of light into her life. But what will Lance think of her if he learns the truth behind her anguish? And what secrets lie in his past?

I had already read the first in the series, which is about Hope's sister (Treasured Grace), but it's not necessary to understanding and following the story - it just deepens your connection to the main and background characters.  These characters are so realistically done that they jump off the page as real people with understandable struggles.  The romance is sweet and clean, the plot moves quickly but is easy to follow, and the historical background makes you feel like you're learning something, too.  Peterson is a regular on the Christian Fiction scene, and her books all have a similar tone.  If you like her other books, you will like this one, too. 

Little French Bistro (Nina George)
Marianne is stuck in a loveless, unhappy marriage.  After forty-one years, she has reached her limit, and one evening in Paris she decides to take action. Following a dramatic moment on the banks of the Seine, Marianne leaves her life behind and sets out for the coast of Brittany, also known as “the end of the world.”  Here she meets a cast of colorful and unforgettable locals who surprise her with their warm welcome, and the natural ease they all seem to have, taking pleasure in life’s small moments. And, as the parts of herself she had long forgotten return to her in this new world, Marianne learns it’s never too late to begin the search for what life should have been all along.  With all the buoyant charm that made The Little Paris Bookshop a beloved bestseller, The Little French Bistro is a tale of second chances and a delightful embrace of the joys of life in France.

I liked the Paris Bookshop, George's first work, and was excited to see a new book out, but this one just left me wanting more.  It's about an older lady who decides to find herself and do what she wants, for a change.  She sets out to lead the life she always wanted - without a husband.  Ok...personally, I think there's an awful lot of the whole 'independent women' thing going around, and as a woman, I'm kinda over it.  But I can get past that being the main plot.  Then, we get deeper into the story, and this lady who is supposed to be so much older and wiser is acting just as stupid as a teenager.  She overcomes her stupidity a bit quicker than most teens, but the book itself is just largely unbelievable.  And full of super descriptive writing that can drown you under the superlatives and neverending, flowing, colorful, numerous adjectives.  Read the Paris Bookshop, and then wait for the third of three.

The Tea Planter's Wife (Dinah Jefferies)
Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected.  The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous, and there are clues to the past - a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds - that her husband refuses to discuss.  Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can't stay buried forever....

I had a really hard time getting into this book.  The plot was fairly standard, the characters weren't all that likable, and it vascillated between being boring and confusing.  At times it's sad, or mystery-driven, or it just makes you angry.  Personally, I have enough drama in my life without inviting any of this nonsense in through a book.  However, parts of the book were good - there was great description and it did inspire me to drink more tea!  Folks who really like overdramatic period pieces may enjoy this one.

Cosmic Commandos (Christopher Eliopoulos)
Jeremy and Justin are twins, but they couldn’t be any more different from each other. Jeremy is a risk taker who likes to get his hands dirty; Justin prefers to read, focus, and get all his facts straight before jumping in. But they do have one important thing in common: They both love video games. When Jeremy wins a cereal-box charm that brings his favorite video game to life, villains and all, he finds that he’s in way over his head. Justin knows everything there is to know about the rules of the game—he read the handbook, of course—and Jeremy isn’t afraid to try new things. Can these two mismatched brothers work together to beat the video game that has become their life?

While I did not care for the messages tucked within the pages of the story, my son enjoyed it.  He also did not see any of the messages, so it wasn't as big a deal.  All he saw was colorful pages with just a little bit of text - and it was mostly space-themed.  We have a long-running conversation, so if any questions arise later about things within storyline, we will discuss them.  For the time being, I'm happy to see my non-reader finding something that he enjoyed reading.

Quilts, Barns, and Buggies (Zondervan)
Take a walk through the fields and feel the warm breeze as you color your way through an Amish lifestyle. With intricate patterned quilts, beautiful scenery, and a focus on the simpler things in life, Quilts, Barns & Buggies will encourage you to relax on even the most hectic days. Sprinkled throughout the pages are wise Amish sayings and biblical proverbs that will inspire you.

Adult coloring books are all the rage these days, and they're perfect for the person who wants to add some flair to their relaxation time! This book is full of inspirational quotes and illustrations, focusing on the simple life. Nature, food, and farm are major themes, as well as (of course) quilts and buggies from Amish country. The pages are thick, so your markers won't bleed through, and the illustrations are complex without being mind-bogglingly-so. This would also make a lovely gift for someone!

As Southern as it Gets (H. Jackson Brown)
Full of small towns and sparkling cities, this welcoming area invites all who visit to put your feet up, have a glass of ice tea in a mason jar and reminisce on some of the most wonderful things in the South. Written by true Southern gentleman H. Jackson Brown Jr., As Southern As It Gets is a charming book of lists—a celebration of all things Southern that will charm and delight anyone who was raised south of the Mason-Dixon or who wish they lived there.  Recall the tastes, sounds, and beauty of Southern treasures such as: Juicy Georgia peaches in July, Glorious changing leaves on the Natchez Trace, A steaming cup of gumbo from New Orleans, The smooth, soulful voice of Patsy Cline.  From Music Row in Nashville, to Daytona Beach in Florida, and Charleston to New Orleans, As Southern As It Gets will remind you of why we Southerns so love our home.

This is a cute book for Southerners, or people who just want to pretend they know the South.  It offers up several good things that make the South unique - foods, cultures, people, etc. - and would make a great coffee table book, as it is a good conversation starter.  One caveat - it's not really a reading book, it's more of a really, really long list - which is something that I didn't like about it.  I was expecting a book, with paragraphs and such, and instead got several pages of a list.  It's fun to browse through, though.  Having grown up and always lived in the South, I found many of them to be true, and a few of them to just be stereotypes that others have about Southerners.  Still - a good conversation piece!
Creating Calm in the Center of Crazy (Nicole Johnson)
Author, speaker, and actor Nicole Johnson knows what it’s like to feel as if you’re drowning in crazy. When she couldn’t catch her breath or stay awake long enough to talk with her husband, let alone God, she sought to find new ways of “being” in her life. Creating Calm in the Center of Crazy is a voice of possibility and peace for women seeking to find a calm spiritual center in a crazy, runaway world. As a wife and mom of young children herself, Nicole recognized that life had become out of control. And, with the help of a crisis, she started her journey to create the very calm she was craving.  Nicole’s voice is authentic, humorous, and practical, and at the same time deeply spiritual and real. She brings rich storytelling together with her desire to find calm, and in the process discovers a deeper faith. Her personal story grounds the book as she abandons mere tips and tricks (and the empty promises of time saving apps), to explore new practices — like creating a room of her own, setting technology boundaries, rediscovering the spiritual disciplines of quiet and still (they’re not bad words) — and then extending those practices to provide a safer, stronger refuge for calm to dwell.  Nicole’s journey is shared with relatable stories, insightful help, and practical ideas that explore the inner life of a recovering crazy busy woman finding her way to calm and a deeper relationship with God.

I had a hard time getting into this book - while it's good to know the author's backstory, so that we know where she's coming from, it just seemed difficult to plow through.  Once I hit the second section, however, things really picked up.  The second and third sections are about creating calm in your own life - actions, non-actions, and the like to help slow the craziness.  Many of them are common sense suggestions, such as 'turn off the technology,' but in this driven world, sometimes it's like we need permission to do such things.  The author is like a girlfriend - over coffee, she keeps it real and tells you what you need to hear.  She also provides suggestions for getting your family to jump on the calm-bandwagon, which were helpful.  It's a good read, but if you struggle with the book, I'd suggest skipping ahead to the second section.
Rogue Justice (Karen Greenberg)
The day after September 11, President Bush tasked the attorney general with preventing another terrorist attack on the United States. From that day forward, the Bush administration turned to the Department of Justice to give its imprimatur to activities that had previously been unthinkable—from the NSA’s spying on US citizens to indefinite detention to torture. Many of these activities were secretly authorized, others done in the light of day.  When President Obama took office, many observers expected a reversal of these encroachments upon civil liberties and justice, but the new administration found the rogue policies to be deeply entrenched and, at times, worth preserving. Obama ramped up targeted killings, held fast to aggressive surveillance policies, and fell short on bringing reform to detention and interrogation.  How did America veer so far from its founding principles of justice? Rogue Justice connects the dots for the first time—from the Patriot Act to today’s military commissions, from terrorism prosecutions to intelligence priorities, from the ACLU’s activism to Edward Snowden’s revelations. And it poses a stark question: Will the American justice system ever recover from the compromises it made for the war on terror?  Riveting and deeply reported, Rogue Justice could only have been written by Karen Greenberg, one of this country’s top experts on Guantánamo, torture, and terrorism, with a deep knowledge of both the Bush and Obama administrations. Now she brings to life the full story of law and policy after 9/11, introducing us to the key players and events, showing that time and again, when liberty and security have clashed, justice has been the victim.

Our country has changed quite a bit since 9/11 - or maybe we've just learned considerably more about what's going on behind the scenes.  It seems that every branch of government has started seriously overstepping its bounds, infringing on the right to privacy of all citizens, not just those deemed on the watch-list.  As someone who vividly remembers 9/11, I understand the government's desire to 'protect its citizens,' but I think they took a wrong turn at Albuquerque, and this book presents many cases and facts to back up that belief.  It's kind of a dry read, so hard to plow through at times - almost as if it were written for a collegiate poli sci class - but has some gems hidden within.  I learned a few things that did not surprise me, yet still horrified.  To quote Ben Franklin, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Your Guide to the Apocalypse (Matt Hagee)
Deception has infiltrated every area of our society, from the daily headlines to the family dinner table. We were warned that this day would come—marking the generation that would witness the end of world as we know it.  In this compelling, user-friendly guide, Pastor Matthew Hagee highlights how governments, technology, and world events are ushering in the terminal generation. Using Scripture as the ultimate authority, Hagee answers riveting questions such as:
·  Is the changing world economy preparing the way for the Antichrist?
·  Why do the price of oil, identity theft, and the world’s obsession with the environment point to the end times?
·  How is the mistreatment of Israel connected to the coming apocalypse?
·  When will weapons of mass destruction be unleashed in the final conflict?
·  In what ways can believers share the truth of God’s Word before it’s too late?
Through the answers to these questions and more, you’ll gain a greater understanding of the Master Architect’s plan for humanity and His divine purpose for your life. Your Guide to the Apocalypse gives you a front-row seat into the prophetic world theater featuring the epic story that began before recorded time. God is pulling back the veil to reveal the final scene. Will you be ready?

I wasn't sure what to expect with this book...I've seen a lot of 'the world's going to end' stuff lately, and I guess it stems from the uncertainty of our times, given the political situation and general worldwide chaos.  This book is the first one I've seen that comes from a Biblical perspective.  It focuses on the history of the apocalypse (ie, before the flood) and the end times that have come before - and it shows it all from both a historical and Biblical context.  It talks about how the pieces are falling into place for the next end times, and how the church and its members can try to mitigate the losses.  It's not a quick read, and not one that you'll want to delve into for some light reading, but it's an interesting book.

And now for the GIVEAWAY!!!!!!!!!!

Too Blessed to be Stressed (Debora M. Coty)
The Too Blessed to be Stressed devotional offers up a daily dose of devotions (and humor) for a woman's heart.  Thousands of women have had the pleasure of reading the wit- and near-wisdom-filled books from beloved inspirational humorist, Debora M. Coty. Her best selling Too Blessed to be Stressed has become a perennial favorite.  Now, be ready to be rescued from the joy-sucking dully-funks...  In this all-new 365-day devotional featuring just-right-sized, truth-filled readings (gift-wrapped in humor) for your heart. The Too Blessed to be Stressed daily devotional touches on everyday life topics like relationships, love, boundaries, hope, brokenness, and praise, while helping you to arrive at healing, refreshment, and revitalization of spirit, body, and faith.  Read on, and be blessed!

This is a different type of devotional - full of snark and sass - and I really enjoyed it!  The author is inspirational, but she keeps it real.  You will laugh your way through most of them, which is a great way to start the day!  Each day has a new story - with a moral or lesson - but they aren't your typical 'mushy' inspirational stories.  (That's just not my style...)  She has a quick wit, takes jabs at things, and (if you're really sensitive) can even come off as offensive at times.  But I don't's funny, it's inspirational, and it's 365 mornings of fabulous!

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