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Thursday, April 12

Spring into a Good Book!

Children's Books
To the Moon!  (Jeffrey Kluger)
What's more exciting than spaceships and astronauts? How about a spaceship carrying the first astronauts ever to see the moon firsthand--on Christmas!  The year was 1968, and the American people were still reeling from the spacecraft fire that killed the Apollo 1 crew a year earlier. On top of that, there were rumors that the Russian cosmonauts were getting ready to fly around the moon. NASA realized that they needed to take a bold step--and that they needed to take it now. They wanted to win the space race against Russia and hold true to President Kennedy's promise to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. So in a risky move, a few days before Christmas of that year, they sent Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders to the moon!   This book about the exciting and inspiring true story of Apollo 8, the first crewed spaceship to break free of Earth's orbit and reach the moon, tells the story of these three brave men, the frantic rush to get their rocket ready, and the journey that gave the American people--and the world--a new look at the planet we live on and the corner of space we inhabit.  Filled with the science and training required to put a person into space, and every detail of what it's like to live in a spaceship for days on end (including what happens when astronauts need to use the bathroom), this book is sure to leave kids clamoring for a spot on the next mission to outer space.

This is a non-fiction book that is written in novel format, and I think that makes it easier for young people to read.  There are times that it is a bit dry, but I'm not a space fanatic.  For kids who are into this topic, it might be just what they need to push them into researching their interest further.  There are some great additions at the back of the book, including a glossary of tech terms, charts and graphs, and photographs of the astronauts, their families, and others working at NASA.  This is a novel approach (no pun intended) to a somewhat-dry subject, and would make an excellent gift for preteens and teens interested in space.

Not-so-Boring Letters of Private Nobody  (Matthew Landis)
Twelve-year-old Oliver Prichard is obsessed with the Civil War. He knows everything about it: the battles, the generals, every movement of the Union and Confederate Armies. So when the last assignment of seventh-grade history is a project on the Civil War, Oliver is over the moon--until he's partnered with Ella Berry, the slacker girl with the messy hair who does nothing but stare out the window. And when Oliver finds out they have to research a random soldier named Private Raymond Stone who didn't even fight in any battles before dying of some boring disease, Oliver knows he's doomed.  But Ella turns out to be very different from what Oliver expected. As the partners film their documentary about Private Stone--with Oliver's friend Kevin signing on as their head writing consultant--Oliver discovers that sometimes the most interesting things are hiding in uninteresting places. Even Private Stone is better than expected: There's a mystery buried in his past, and Oliver knows he can figure it out.

My boys are way into history, like Oliver, and they really enjoyed reading this book because of their connection with the character.  There's a mystery to solve, primary sources to use, and a field trip...all while a most unlikely pair works together on it.  The characters are well-developed and very realistic, and my kids snickered at times while reading, letting me know that they were not only enjoying the story, but also really getting involved in it.  The story brings the Civil War to life, and I'm interested to see if there will be other stories - with different historical eras - in a possibly new series...  If so, it would be one worth creating some unit studies to accompany.

Adventure Bible Book of Daring Deeds and Epic Creations (Zonderkidz)
Begin your adventure here! The Adventure Bible Book of Daring Deeds and Epic Creations: 60 Ultimate Try-Something-New, Explore-the-World Activities contains lessons on knot tying, writing coded letters, building tree swings, and more, perfect for kids ages 8 and up. Boys and girls will love this interactive book filled with step-by-step guides and fun, full-color illustrations, and parents will enjoy the key verses and biblical takeaways that make this the perfect companion to the NIV Adventure Bible, the #1 Bible for kids. From easy, do-it-yourself crafts to fun outdoor activities, this book will show kids how to find adventure indoors and out.
Adventures include:

  • Top-secret coded letters
  • Geocaching fun
  • Identifying animal tracks
  • Camping like a pro
  • Learning sign language
  • Bible arts and crafts
  • And more!

This is a such a great book, full of activities and crafts, and broken down into bite-sized chunks for a few hours of fun at a time.  Some activities can be done alone, and some require a parent to participate / supervise.  Each of the sixty activities has an inspirational moment, a verse, and an activity that is related.  They include things like learning the constellations, learning to read a map, making trail mix, geocaching, and creating an herb garden.  The items needed for activities are things that you'll probably have around your house, and they are perfect things to do on a day when you're stuck inside...when it's too hot, rainy, or cold to be outside.  It's a great book for babysitters or grandparents to use for entertaining kids, and would make a nice start-of-the-summer gift for kids, to inspire them (away from the computer or tv).

Hurricane Season (Laura Denton)
Betsy and Ty Franklin, owners of Franklin Dairy Farm in southern Alabama, have long since buried their desire for children of their own. While Ty manages their herd of dairy cows, Betsy busies herself with the farm’s day-to-day operations and tries to forget her dream of motherhood. But when her free-spirited sister, Jenna, drops off her two young daughters for “just two weeks,” Betsy’s carefully constructed wall of self-protection begins to crumble.  As the two weeks stretch deeper into the Alabama summer, Betsy and Ty learn to navigate the new additions in their world—and revel in the laughter that now fills their home. Meanwhile, record temperatures promise to usher in the most active hurricane season in decades.  Attending an art retreat four hundred miles away, Jenna is fighting her own battles. She finally has time and energy to focus on her photography, a lifelong ambition. But she wonders how her rediscovered passion can fit in with the life she’s made back home as a single mom.  When Hurricane Ingrid aims a steady eye at the Alabama coast, Jenna must make a decision that will change her family’s future, even as Betsy and Ty try to protect their beloved farm and their hearts. Hurricane Season is the story of one family’s unconventional journey to healing—and the relationships that must be mended along the way.

This was an interesting read; it had a good pace, and I like how it followed the hurricanes, building up to the big one.  The story follows two sisters, each who thinks the grass is a bit greener on the other side of the fence.  They come to learn that it isn't, but more than that, they come to understand and respect each other and learn from each other.  While it is in the Christian fiction genre, it is more of a fiction book where the characters occasionally attend church and grow in moral character -- it would be appealing to folks who don't typically read Christian fiction.  There's a lot of emphasis on exploring life dreams, and how those dreams may not end up looking the way that we plan.  The storms of life (hurricanes?) get in the way and knock us off course...but we can grow from them and continue on with our lives.

Pelican Point  (Irene Hannon)
A crumbling lighthouse is not part of the inheritance Army doctor Ben Garrison expects to claim when he journeys to Hope Harbor. Fresh out of the service, he wants only to unload the tower of bricks, decompress from years of treating battlefield trauma, and prepare to launch his civilian career.  Hope Harbor Herald editor Marci Weber has other ideas. She may not be a Hope Harbor native, but the small Oregon seaside town has become home--and she's determined to save the Pelican Point landmark.  Sparks fly as the two go head to head over the fate of the lighthouse. But when they start to cooperate, a different kind of fire ignites. And as they work together, might Hope Harbor heal the hearts of these two romance-wary souls?  Bestselling author Irene Hannon invites readers back to their favorite town for a story that will light a beacon of hope within their hearts.

My first thought upon getting into this was, "Cool - I'd love to own a lighthouse!"  As the story progresses though, I'm now thinking not-so-much.  It takes a lot of money and effort to keep it up...and that's just one of the things that the main character struggles with in this story.  He has a lady who won't leave him alone, and he's just lost his rock, his grandfather, but he overcomes all of this and ends up with more happiness than he imagined by the end.  There is a lot of fighting...after all, passion takes many forms!  The two characters butt heads constantly, and you can only hope that they don't kill each other before the end of the story.  Each has personal reasons for their actions, but they come to learn from each other.  I love how the setting is developed -- you actually feel as though you're in coastal Oregon.  Also, while this is the fourth in a series, it reads well as a stand-alone.

The Weaver's Daughter (Sarah Ladd)
Kate's loyalties bind her to the past. Henry's loyalties compel him to strive for a better future. In a landscape torn between tradition and vision, can two souls find the strength to overcome their preconceptions? Loyalty has been at the heart of the Dearborne family for as long as Kate can remember, but a war is brewing in their small village, one that has the power to rip families asunder -- including her own. As misguided actions are brought to light, she learns how deep her father's pride and bitterness run, and she begins to wonder if her loyalty is well-placed.Henry Stockton, heir to the Stockton fortune, returns home from three years at war hoping to find a refuge from his haunting memories. Determined to bury the past, he embraces his grandfather's goals to modernize his family's wool mill, regardless of the grumblings from the local weavers. When tragedy strikes shortly after his arrival, Henry must sort out the truth from suspicion if he is to protect his family's livelihood and legacy.Henry has been warned about the Dearborne family. Kate, too, has been advised to stay far away from the Stocktons, but chance meetings continue to bring her to Henry's side, blurring the jagged lines between loyalty, justice, and truth. Kate ultimately finds herself with the powerful decision that will forever affect her village's future. As unlikely adversaries, Henry and Kate must come together to find a way to create peace for their families, and their village, and their souls - even if it means risking their hearts in the process.

This is a Romeo & Juliet story with a (semi) modern twist.  Set in the 19th century, the Montagues and Capulets are replaced by the mill owners and weavers.  The author did a good job of creating the setting, and you'll learn a lot of neat historical tidbits while reading it.  There's a third party love interest, and for a little bit, you're not sure how the story will end.  The characters take turn as the narrator (various points of view), and there's a third character whose point of view we also follow.  At first, I thought she would be integral in this story, but I think they're setting her up for a future story of her own.  Henry and Kate face many struggles, but eventually they learn the balance of life...separating career from home and finding personal balance within their families.

A Borrowed Dream (Amanda Cabot)
Catherine Whitfield is sure that she will never again be able to trust anyone in the medical profession after the town doctor's excessive bleeding treatments killed her mother. Despite her loneliness and her broken heart, she carries bravely on as Cimarron Creek's dutiful schoolteacher, resigned to a life without love or family, a life where dreams rarely come true.  Austin Goddard is a newcomer to Cimarron Creek. Posing as a rancher, he fled to Texas to protect his daughter from a dangerous criminal. He's managed to keep his past as a surgeon a secret. But when Catherine Whitfield captures his heart, he wonders how long he will be able to keep up the charade.  With a deft hand, Amanda Cabot teases out the strands of love, deception, and redemption in this charming tale of dreams deferred and hopes becoming reality.

I had to go back and read the first book in the series before reading this one, because I didn't want to come into it without have the background info.  This is a story about about two people who each have their own difficult past to run from, and they do, but they end up running right toward the future God had designed for them.  The author does a great job of pulling the reader into the story through a well-developed setting, interesting characters, and a story with more twists and turns than a mountain bypass!  There are a few lesser characters that had some flaws in the character development, and might leave you scratching your head, but they're not crucial to the plot and probably won't show up as a main character later.  I'm interested to see who features in book three of this trilogy, set in the mid-19th century of the wild west!

A Legacy of Love by Amy Clipston
Local volunteer fire fighter Leon King agrees to repair his ex-girlfriend Susie Bontrager’s grandparents’ antique rocking chairs for her future home with her fiance and is forced to acknowledge that his feelings for her have not quite gone away. As Susie spends time with Leon, she begins to recognize she is marrying the wrong man for all the wrong reasons.
The Cedar Chest by Beth Wiseman
Decades after inheriting her great grandmother’s cedar chest, Emma Fisher decides to pry it open only to discover a beautiful love story in the form of letters between her great grandparents. But as Emma immerses herself in their story, family secrets are revealed, and she must decide whether to share them to preserve family history or honor her great grandparents’ decision to leave them hidden. 
The Treasured Book by Kathleen Fuller
For the past two years, Shane Broyles has felt God leading him to join the Amish. He’s staying with his friends Noah and Ivy Schlabach in Birch Creek, OH, where he is reunited with Lucy Fisher, an old friend of Noah’s family. Shane and Lucy have never revealed their feelings for each other, but when they stumble upon an antique Bible at a flea market, they feel drawn to each other and to the mystery of the contents found within.
The Midwife’s Dream by Kelly Irvin
Iris Beachy serves as a midwife in her district where she longs for a family of her own. When her friend’s brother Mahon Kurtz seeks her help in delivering the baby of two young teenagers who have sought refuge in their town, they begin to see each other in a different light. Unprepared for parenthood, the young couple leave their baby girl behind in an antique crib quilt resembling the one destined for Iris when she becomes a mother. Mahon and Iris come together to take care of the baby as they try to find her parents, and they begin to see new possibilities for their future.

I've long enjoyed these short novella collections in the Amish series, and this one was no exception.  Each of the stories brings something different to the table, but they all center around generations past, memories lost and reclaimed, and the joy of a continuous thread.  Some of the books are connected to other series that I have read (such as A Legacy of Love), while others introduced characters that left me wondering if there is more to the series (The Treasured Book), but each story brought a unique lesson to be learned.

The Theory of Happily Ever After (Kristen Billerbeck)
According to Dr. Maggie Maguire, happiness is serious science, as serious as Maggie takes herself. But science can't always account for life's anomalies--for instance, why her fiancĂ© dumped her for a silk-scarf acrobat and how the breakup sent Maggie spiraling into an extended ice cream-fueled chick flick binge.  Concerned that she might never pull herself out of this nosedive, Maggie's friends book her as a speaker on a "New Year, New You" cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. Maggie wonders if she's qualified to teach others about happiness when she can't muster up any for herself. But when a handsome stranger on board insists that smart women can't ever be happy, Maggie sets out to prove him wrong. Along the way she may discover that happiness has far less to do with the head than with the heart.  Filled with memorable characters, snappy dialogue, and touching romance, Kristin Billerbeck's The Theory of Happily Ever After shows that the search for happiness may be futile--because sometimes happiness is already out there searching for you.

I had mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, we have a character who has been deeply hurt, and still bears the scars of childhood hurts, and who is working through her grief while maintaining a facade that life has a fairytale ending.  On the other hand, the characters are really juvenile, and sometimes I just want to smack some sense into them.  I enjoyed the setting...along the Mexican coast...and felt like I was cruising right along with them.  It goes back and forth between being a serious book addressing her issues and being a silly, at times inane, book of pettiness.  At the heart of the book is the question of life...who is she?  What purpose does her life have?  Where does she belong?  It is this journey for answers that kept me reading until the very end.

The Healing Self  (Deepak Chopra)
For over twenty-five years Deepak Chopra, M.D. and Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D. have revolutionized medicine and how we understand our minds and our bodies—Chopra, the leading expert in the field of integrative medicine; Tanzi, the pioneering neuroscientist and discoverer of genes that cause Alzheimer's Disease. After reaching millions of people around the world through their collaborations on the hugely successful Super Brain and Super Genes books and public television programs, the New York Times bestselling authors now present a groundbreaking, landmark work on the supreme importance of our immune system in relation to our lifelong health.  
In the face of environmental toxins, potential epidemics, superbugs, and the accelerated aging process, the significance of achieving optimum health has never been more crucial—and the burden to achieve it now rests on individuals making the right lifestyle choices every day.  That means you. You—not doctors, not pharmaceutical companies—are ultimately responsible for your own health.  Chopra and Tanzi want to help readers make the best decisions possible when it comes to creating a holistic and transformative health plan for life. In The Healing Self they not only push the boundaries of the intellect to bring readers the newest research and insights on the mind-body, mind-gene, and mind-immunity connections, but they offer a cutting-edge, seven-day action plan, which outlines the key tools everyone needs to develop their own effective and personalized path to self-healing.  In addition, The Healing Self closely examines how we can best manage chronic stress and inflammation, which are immerging as the primary detriments of well-being. Moreover, Chopra and Tanzi turn their attention to a host of chronic disorders such as hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s Disease, known to take years and sometimes decades to develop before the first symptoms appear. Contemporary medical systems aren’t set to attend to prolonged low-grade chronic inflammation or the everyday infections and stresses that take their toll on the body and can lead to disease, aging, and death. Thus, learning the secrets of self-healing is not only urgent but mandatory for optimum health. The Healing Self then is a call to action, a proven, strategic program that will arm readers with the information they need to protect themselves and achieve lifelong wellness. 

I've read a few books by this author, and was hoping for more insight along the same lines, but got a rehash of several of his other books kind of condensed into one.  If you _haven't_ read one of his books, this is a good one to pick up, for that reason.  If you have, then you probably won't find much new here.  There are only so many ways to tell a person to be fully engaged in their life, make smart everyday choices, and own the future of their own health.  Again, if this is your first book, there is a lot of good information about how the conscious mind and body are interconnected.  If you've stumped all of the doctors with your health issue, then it's time to look toward a more holistic approach, which is what you'll find here.

God's Promises for the Graduate  (Jack Countryman)
To be successful in life, high school and college graduates need to stay in step with God. At each turn there are new challenges. What better help than this small book of God’s promises found in Scripture to bring guidance, comfort, and encouragement straight from the Word. Scripture passages are from the New International Version translation. This book shows grads God’s promises on topics graduates will resonate with such as character, integrity, loyalty, focus, respect, perseverance, and more. Each topic is addressed with promises straight from the Bible.  This keepsake gift has a ribbon marker, silver-gilded edges, and a Leathersoft over hardcover design that is perfect to accommodate personalization by imprinting the graduate’s name. Year after year the classic black cover is one of the most popular choices.  For more than 30 years the God’s Promises® series has sold millions of copies, guiding and comforting people with God’s Word.  Encourage, inspire, and give your graduate comfort and courage with this beautiful gift book.

I picked up this book for a special young man who will be graduating in just a few short months.  This is such a difficult, exciting, transitional time in a young person's life, and they need strong advice to fall back on.  This book is small, pocket-sized, and looks stylish.  This is a collection of Bible verses, sorted by topic, as a quick go-to for life's difficult situations.  They're bite-sized, but pack a punch and will leave them mulling it over in the back of their brains as they go through their days.  The topics are easy to find, so you can either read it through or turn to a specific topic that is on your plate at the time.  It includes Bible verses,  and addresses specific situations that 18-20 year olds find themselves in on a regular basis.
God's Words of Life for Mothers (Zondervan)
Regardless of what you find yourself facing as a mom, you can find peace and comfort in the eternal truths of Scripture. Encourage your heart and soul as you read through God’s Words of Life for Mothers, a beautiful book of curated verses to inspire you in every season.  The cover features a beautiful fabric pattern from designer Amy Butler, and pages have unique scalloped edges.  Whether you’re busy amid life with littles or advising your grown children through early adulthood, lean on God’s wisdom to love your family well. God’s Words of Life for Mothers includes hundreds of verses carefully organized by the topics you need most—grace, rest, wisdom, prayer, and many more. No matter what you need on any given day, find the inspiration you need straight from the Word of God.  With a stylish cover and scalloped page edges, God’s Words of Life for Mothers is the perfect gift for any mom in your life!

This is such a beautiful book, and I am planning to get another one for a baby shower gift in the near future!  It has scalloped edges on the pages, a handy bookmark, and is pocket-sized for easy travel (say, in a diaper bag).  The verses are sorted by subject, such as anger, faith, kindness, and worry, and they are all relevant to a mother's heart.  For the sleep-deprived, these topics are easily sorted into alphabetical order, with a table of contents indicating start page.  It includes both Bible verses and devotional material, and is just a great resource for moms - especially those who may not have someone immediate to lean on - in the trenches of daily life.

The Better Mom (Ruth Schwenk)
Mothering is messy. Our joy and hope in raising children doesn’t change the reality that being a mom can be frustrating, stressful, and tiring. But just as God is using us to shape our children, God is using our children and motherhood to shape us.  
In The Better Mom, author Ruth Schwenk, herself a mother of four children, encourages us with the good news that there is more to being a mom than the extremes of striving for perfection or simply embracing the mess. We don’t need to settle for surviving our kids’ childhood. We can grow through it.
With refreshing and heartfelt honesty Ruth emboldens moms to:
  • Find freedom and walk confidently in purpose
  • Create a God-honoring home environment 
  • Overcome unhealthy and destructive emotions such as anger, anxiety, and more
  • Avoid glorifying the mess of mom-ing or idolizing perfection
  • Cultivate life-giving friendships 

At the heart of The Better Mom is the message that Jesus calls us to live not a weary life, but a worthy life. We don’t have to settle for either being apathetic or struggling to be perfect. Both visions of motherhood go too far. Ruth offers a better option. She says, “It’s okay to come as we are, but what we’re called to do and be is far too important to stay there! The way to becoming a better mom starts not with what we are doing, but with who God is inviting us to become."

What a great book for mothers-to-be!  (I'd say new moms, but who has the time?)  This book really breaks it down and speaks to the different stages of motherhood in a conversational tone, not sugarcoating the bad parts, and being sure to include all of the juicy, good parts, too!  It's not so much like having a conversation with a friend as it is like attending a really good seminar on motherhood.  It covers topics such as bringing your newborn home, expectations versus reality, the trenches of young children, and navigating the older years.  It focuses on keeping your joy through the mess of motherhood, and is an excellent place to turn on those days when you feel like throwing in the towel.  A great read from a 'real' mom!

I received some of these books in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.
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