Sunday, September 14, 2014

Book Review: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Book Details
Title: City of Stairs
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
2014, Broadway Books
ISBN: 978-0804137171
Genre: Fantasy

Book Summary
The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions—until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world's new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself—first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it—stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy. 

Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov's oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country's most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem—and that Bulikov's cruel reign may not yet be over.

My Review
First of all, I’d like to say that I really enjoyed this book. It is the first book I’ve read by this author and it was a little different than books I usually read, but I liked it. That being said, I also found it to be very dense reading. I almost felt like I was wading through the story. This is not to say that it was not interesting or that I wanted to quit reading it… but the text was very rich. I would not say this was an easy read, but worth it if you’re willing to put in the time.

City of Stairs is set in a fantasy world where there are mortals and divinities. There is also some part human/part god “children” out there. I am not going to go into an explanation of it all here, but basically there were six divinities and they ruled/blessed/created a holy city. This city oppressed the other nations around it until finally someone from a neighboring country rose up and figured out a way to kill some of the gods. Here is where my main objection to the story comes up. I don’t quite understand how a “god” or “divinity” can be killed… but I’ll let it slid for the sake of the story. The city falls into ruins after the gods are killed and the citizens are poverty-stricken and oppressed by their conquerors’.

We meet Shara, a secret operative and “ambassador” to this holy city. She has come to investigate the murder of a famous historian who came to the holy city for research. While she is there, she makes a lot of discoveries, about the gods, the city and a group of people trying to “restore” the old city. Shara is a very complex character. She is intelligent and is fascinated by the old stories of the gods and their miracles. She brings along her “secretary” who is really more of a bodyguard, Sigrud. In my opinion, he is one of the best characters in the book! He is tough and scary, but smart and funny. For a secondary character he is a very deep character and has a rich storyline. You will fall in love with him.

Honestly, this story has so much going on in it that it can’t even be put in a short review for fear of giving something away. If you have any interest in fantasy you should pick it up. There is a bit of everything in this story, romance, drama, battles, mysteries, remarkable world building and interesting characters. And the front cover is kind of awesome too.

Learn More

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program. All thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Book Review: Playing by Heart by Anne Mateer

Book Details
Title: Playing By Heart
Author: Anne Mateer
2014, Bethany House
ISBN: 978-0-7642-1065-5
Genre: Christian Historical Fiction

Book Summary
Lula Bowman has finally achieved her dream: a teaching position and scholarship to continue her college education in mathematics. But then a shocking phone call from her sister, Jewel, changes everything.

With a heavy heart, Lula returns to her Oklahoma hometown to do riht be her sister, but the only teaching job available in Dunn is combination music instructor/basketball coach. Lula doesn't even consider those real subjects!

Determined to prove herself, Lula commits to covering the job for the rest of the school year. Reluctantly, she turns to the boys' coach, Chet, to learn the newfangled game of basketball. Chet is handsome and single, but Lula has no plans to fall for a local boy. She's returning to college and her scholarship as soon as she gets Jewel back on her feet. 

However, the more time she spends around Jewel's family, the girls' basketball team, music classes, and Chet, the more Lula comes to realize what she's given up in her single-minded pursuit of degree after degree. God is working on her heart, and her future is starting to look a lot different than she'd expected.

My Review
Honestly, that summary on the back cover really sums up the whole book. I think it is set during WWII. The book is told from the perspective of Lula and Chet. Lula has received a prestigious mathematics award and is teaching at a university and studies for her PhD. She has reject all her other pursuits from before her mother died and has decided to go far with her education to fulfill the dream of her father ... and herself of course. 

Chet is the school boys basketball coach and math teacher. He's really much more into the basketball part though, I think. Many of the other men are enlisting and going off to war, but Chet has decided to stay home to take care of his widowed mother while his brother goes to fight.

Chet and Lula both have their reasons for not wanting a relationship at the moment, but of course they fall for each other. I liked that even though they had an almost instant attraction, that they took their time with getting around to an actual relationship. It wasn't two weeks long like many of these books. 

I also really enjoyed the parts where Lula was trying to teach basketball to the girls. I could just imagine if I attempted to do such a thing and what a disaster it would be. 

Overall a very enjoyable read and easy read. 

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers for my honest review. No other compensation was received and all thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book Review: I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson

Book Details
Title: I Quit Sugar
Author: Sarah Wilson
2014, Clarkson Potter
ISBN: 978-0804186018
Genre: Non-fiction, Cookbook

Book Summary
Sarah Wilson thought of herself as a relatively healthy eater. She didn't realize how much sugar was hidden in her diet, or how much it was affecting her well-being. When she learned that her sugar consumption could be the source of a lifetime of mood swings, fluctuating weight, sleep problems, and thyroid disease, she knew she had to make a change.

What started as an experiment to eliminate sugar--both the obvious and the hidden kinds--soon became a way of life, and now Sarah shows you how you can quit sugar too:

* follow a flexible and very doable 8-week plan
* overcome cravings
* make food you're excited to eat with these 108 recipes for detox meals, savory snacks, and sweet treats from Sarah Wilson and contributors including Gwyneth Paltrow, Curtis Stone, Dr. Robert Lustig (The Fat Chance Cookbook), Sarma Melngailis (Raw Food/ Real World), Joe "the Juicer" Cross, and Angela Liddon (Oh She Glows)

I Quit Sugar makes it easy to kick the habit for good, lose weight, and feel better than ever before. When you are nourished with delicious meals and treats, you won't miss the sugar for an instant. 

"When I quit sugar I found wellness and the kind of energy and sparkle I had as a kid. I don't believe in diets or in making eating miserable. This plan and the recipes are designed for lasting wellness." -- Sarah Wilson

My Review
Okay, I was going to wait until I finished the program to write my review, but I may just have to come back and update it. When I originally received this book for review, I was interested in the topic, but didn’t see myself wanting to actually attempt to “quit sugar”. Then I started reading the intro pages and really found myself drawn to the whole idea. These were concepts I already believed and I realized that here was a way to actually attempt it.

I have finally convinced my husband (half the battle honestly) to try the 8-week detox program with me and we are currently only on Week 1, but I am excited about the upcoming process.

Things I love about this book and program so far:
-The layout of the book is very beautiful and makes it fun to look at. There are lots of tips and info boxes all over.
-I like that the author starts in slowly with two weeks of cutting back before she makes you go cold turkey. During these two weeks you are slowly trying a few new recipes each week.
-I saw some others complaining about this, but it makes me REALLY HAPPY that this is a bit of a free-form diet plan. I have followed some other diets and they are so strict that I feel you cannot make a real lifestyle change. This plan isn’t as rigid, there is no exact list of what to eat or drink every meal of every day, but it gives you the tools to make the right decisions… and hopefully that will translate into making those better decisions after the 8-weeks are up.

Things I’m not sure about:
-Some of the ingredients… there are a lot of special ingredients. The author claims to use these same ingredients over and over, so we’ll see how that goes.
-I’m not sure about some of the recipes either. I’m not sure how my family is going to respond to Squash Soup or pancakes made with buckwheat flour, but I’m willing to try it.

I will say that we’ve tried the granola and I made an apple and cheese dessert last night and it’s been very yummy so far.

I think this book would be a great resource for someone to find out more information on sugar in our diets, or some sugarless recipes. If you’re someone who has to have a rigid diet plan then this book is not going to be for you, but if you like to be able to have some control over your diet, than you should check this one out.

More Info
Read Chapter One
Author Bio

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program. All thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Summer Wrap Up

I can't believe it's the end of summer already!! How did that happen? In our house, we're gearing up for the beginning of Kindergarten! I'm a little terrified, but I think it will be good. 

Yesterday I received an email from Malachi's teacher to set up our "Kindergarten Interview".  Honestly, I have no idea what to expect from this year.... being homeschooled from 1st-12th grade doesn't give you a whole lot of practical experience for the public school system. To say I'm a little skeptical is a bit of an understatement. I think there are a lot of awesome teachers out there, but they can only do so much with a broken system. I'm willing to give it a try though, so hopefully it is a good experience.

We also went shopping for school supplies with grandma and make a trip down to the outlet stores for new school clothes - of course mommy and grandma got a few things also. =)

I've also been trying to figure out how to streamline our mornings. I'm not a morning person, so anything to help me out is great. I took this idea from Pinterest @TheGunnySack for organizing clothes for the week. I went to Target yesterday and purchased a six-cubbie haning shelf organizer. Malachi thinks its cool (??) and so hopefully that will get us going. This way he can get himself dressed in the mornings and I know he's actually match.

We've been trying to fit in all the stuff that I didn't get to earlier in the summer.... like swimming lessons! Last year I only got Malachi in for a week of lessons at the YMCA. This year I didn't think I was going to get him in at all, but then I got told about a local place that was a good price AND they had one last session for the summer. Hooray! Only 3 kids in his class and he's doing really well this year having gotten over his fear of putting his face in the water last year. 

We happened to see Zachary's physical therapist at the swimming place. It was exciting to show her how well his walking now!! Last time we saw her he had only taken a few steps between us. Hooray for finally walking!!

We're going to try to "quit sugar" in our house. I was offered this book to review by the publisher and didn't plan AT ALL to want to do it.

But after reading it I've discovered that I already agreed with a lot of what the author had to say, but had no idea how to go about implementing it. Sooo... I'm actually really interested in trying it. She has a 8-week sugar detox program, so we're ALL going to try it. Convincing my husband with the sweet-tooth ("does this mean you're not going to make cookies anymore?) took some doing... but he's on-board too. We'll see how it goes......

Lastly... found this precious picture today of Malachi holding his new baby brother in the hospital.... awwwww......

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Little House on the Prairie

Malachi and I are enjoying reading the Little House Books. We've finished Little House in the Big Woods and we just started Little House on the Prairie this afternoon. I loved these books as a kid and I'm hoping Malachi enjoys them as well..

One thing that he's been really intrigued by is that these books are about REAL people. So today as we were reading about the Ingalls family leaving their house in the Big Woods and driving across Lake Pepin on the ice, I remembered I had saved a Pinterest pin about a virtual field trip tour of the Little House sites. It is a little hard for a 5-year-old in our culture to picture what it was like to live in a little cabin the the woods.... or what it was like traveling in a covered wagon for that matter. This site had some great pictures of the actual site where Laura and her family lived in Wisconsin. Even I enjoyed the pictures! I don't think I quite realized how large Lake Pepin is and I cannot imagine crossing it on ice! Yikes!

This is also a great site to find information and pictures about Laura and the places she lived -

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book Review: Captured By Love by Jody Hedlund

Book Details:
Title: Captured by Love
Author Jody Hedlund
2014, Bethany House
Genre: Christian Historical Fiction

Book Summary:
Michigan Territory, 1814
A voyageur and a young woman swept up in a time of upheaval and danger discover firsthand the high price of freedom.
The British Army has taken control of Michilimackinac Island and its fort, forcing the Americans to swear an oath of loyalty to the crown in order to retain their land. Pierre Durant is a fur trader who returns after being away from the island for years, only to find the family farm a shambles and those he cares about starving and at the mercy of British invaders.

Torn between the adventurous life of fur trading and guilt over neglecting his defenseless mother, Pierre is drawn deeper into the fight against the British--and into a relationship with Angelique MacKenzie, a childhood friend who's grown into a beautiful woman. She now finds herself trapped by the circumstances of war and poverty, and the cruelty of her guardian, Ebenezer Whiley.

As tensions mount and the violence rages on, Pierre and Angelique must decide where their loyalties rest and how much they'll risk for love.

My Review:
I love, love, love Jody Hedlund's books. My favorite part of her novels is that she takes a period of time and delves into the historical facts and integrates them beautifully into her books. This book was no exception to that. 

The author really brings to life what it was like for not only the soldiers on the island of Michilimackinac Island, but also the islanders who called it home. During much of the time of this book, the whole island is starving for food with the soldiers taking more than their share. You also get a look at what island life was like during the early 1800's and soldiering - on both sides. Another thing I learned a lot about was the voyager- or fur traders during this time. The alliances they made with the Native American's or didn't and what that meant for their business.

Of course, then there was the story part of this novel. This book was told from the POV of Angelique MacKenzie, an orphaned girl who is being raised by her rather mean step-father and Pierre Durant, an islander who left his mother and brother behind to become a fur trader. He is working as a spy for the American side.

When Pierre comes back to the island he finds his mother blind and his brother gone - kicked off the island because he wouldn't renounce his American citizenship. Angelique is the one taking care of his mother - when she gets the chance. Pierre and Angelique are drawn together despite all the turmoil going on on the island. 

I mostly liked this story. It was well-written and interesting, but I had a bit of a problem with Angelique. She had been in love with Pierre her whole life, but when he left, she betrothed herself to his brother. When Pierre returns, so do all her feelings, but I have serious issue with the way she went about the whole love triangle business. I don't understand how she could be so caught up in herself that she would disregard another's feelings. I don't want to give too much away, but I felt that it was out of character for her. She turned a bit flaky and stupid in my opinion as the book went on. 

Overall a good book with a lot of history. I was a little disappointed in the story for the reason I mentioned, but if you like historical novels, this is probably a good bet.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers for my honest review. No other compensation was received and all thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Junior Ranger Programs

Something we discovered part way into our week at Yellowstone is the Junior Ranger program. I thought this was just a Yellowstone thing, but apparently it's a National Park thing. 

According to the National Park Foundation: 
Inviting the youngest park visitors to become a member of the National Park Service family, the Junior Ranger program gives kids and families the opportunity to uniquely explore and learn about their national parks, and how they can help protect them today and into the future.
There are currently over 200 Junior Ranger Programs in the National Park Service. In each of these parks, kids interview Rangers, complete games, and answer questions about the park and the National Park Service. At the end of their experience in the park, they are sworn in as Junior Rangers and receive a special certificate and official Junior Ranger badge.
I would highly recommend this to anyone with kids 4-12! Malachi loved becoming a Junior Ranger. The booklet was $3 at Yellowstone and totally worth it!

First - go to any visitor center and pick up you Junior Ranger workbook. One of the REAL Park Rangers with go over the process with you and your child along with the rules of the park.

Second - Figure out how many activities your child has to complete in the workbook for their age level. Malachi was in the youngest age category, so he had to complete 6 pages. We actually ended up completing 8 and we might work on a few more - or maybe we'll just pick up a new one next time! 

Third - Attend a Ranger-led program. This was the hardest part for us. We kept planning on attending a certain program and then something would prevent us from getting there on time (brother with a blow-out diaper, cool animals on the side of the road, traffic, etc) We finally ended up hearing a talk on Grizzly Bears and their Habitat by Ranger Rick (not the raccoon =) at the Junior Ranger Station on our last day. We made a special trip into the park just to attend!!!

Fourth - Walk a trail or boardwalk

Fifth - Find the visitor center again and have a Park Ranger look over your booklet. After that they have your child hold up their right hand and "swear them in". Then they receive a patch!

They also have a bunco of Junior Ranger accessories you can buy, a vest, hat, binoculars, etc. Lots of it actually. Malachi ended up going home with a stainless steel collapsible cup, a whistle and some binos (just like Daddy's). I am seriously considering a vest, just so I have a place to keep the patches!

Craters of the Moon also had a Junior Ranger program. It was much simpler and the booklet was free because it's a smaller park, but we had a lot of fun with it. They actually become "Lunar Park Ranger's". Same process applied: walk a trail, do some activities from the workbook, attend a program and get sworn in. Malachi chose to wear an astronaut helmet for his swearing in and it was a little big!

All that to say - check out the Junior Ranger programs at the National Parks that you visit in the future. I heard several people say that they have a bunch of adults who ask to do the programs, just because they are informative! The Park Ranger who did our Ranger-led program at Craters of the Moon told me she always picks up a workbook and does it when she goes to a new park - and she's already a Ranger!

Go here to find a list of National Parks with Junior Ranger Programs and have fun exploring!