Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Book Review: Undaunted Hope by Jody Hedlund

Book Details:
Title: Undaunted Hope
Author: Jody Hedlund
2016, Bethany House
ISBN: 978-0-7642-1239-0
Genre: Christian Historical Fiction

Book Summary:
In a Town Mired in Darkness, She May Shine the Light They Need

Running from the mistakes of her past, Tessa Taylor heads to the uppermost reaches of Michigan, planning to serve as the new teacher to the children of miners. She quickly learns the town had requested a male teacher, but Percival Updegraff, superintendent and chief mine clerk, says she can stay through winter since it's too late to replace her. Tessa can't help but thank him  and say she is in his debt.

Determined to make herself irreplaceable once spring thaw arrives, Tessa throws herself into her work, and soon two students and decided Miss Taylor is the right match for their grieving father. At the same time, charming assistant lightkeeper Alex Bjorklund makes his interest known, surprising Tessa, who has never had men fight for her hand before. But not all is well as she feels that someone is tracking her ever move, and she may not be able to escape the trap that has been laid for her.

My Review:
I have read quite a few of this authors books and have become increasingly frustrated with the last few. I was pleasantly surprised with Undaunted Hope because the main character showed more integrity than some of the past few in the Beacons of Hope series.

This book is set in 1871 in Eagle Harbor, Michigan. Unlike the last couple books in this series, Tessa is not a lightkeeper and she doesn't want to be. She is a schoolteacher. We actually met Tessa in the previous book in the series and although this book could stand alone, I think in order to really appreciate her character, that book should be read first.

Tessa comes to Eagle Harbor as a teacher, but she soon learns that there are many things not right in the small copper mining community. Percival Updegraff, the chief mine clerk, uses many underhanded ways of keeping his employees in line. He preys on women and threatens the children. He seems to know everything that goes on in the community no matter how small.

The only people he seems not to have under his thumb are the two lightkeepers - brothers - Alex and Michael Bjorklund. Tessa befriends Michael's two young children who attend the school and the young girl tries some matchmaking
between Tessa and her father.

I was happy to see that Tessa attempted to keep her reputation from being ruined during her time spent with the brothers. That had been one of my frustrations with the previous books in the series that the main characters seemed rather naive and, if I must say it, stupid when it came to her time spent with men - especially men they were attracted too. Just because you are attracted to someone doesn't mean you throw all your morals and brains out the window and I was happy to see that Tessa, for the most part, kept her brains about her.

Although this is Christian fiction, I didn't feel like it was a huge part of the storyline. It is mentioned, but not really talked about much in the book. This doesn't bother me, but it may be something that someone who likes a strong Christian message takes issue with.

Overall I thought it was a good and interesting book. I always enjoy the Author's Note at the end that reveals the true historical inspirations for the author's stories. I may continue on with the series now that I've read this one!

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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book Review: The Lost Heiress by Roseanna M White

Book Details:
Title: The Lost Heiress
Author: Roseanna M White
2015, Bethany House
ISBN: 978-0764213502
Genre: Christian Historical Fiction

Book Summary:
Sweeping Romance and Mystery in the Edwardian Era

Brook Eden has never known where she truly belongs. When her friend Justin uncovers the fact that she is possibly a missing heiress from Yorkshire, Brook leaves the sun of the Mediterranean to travel to the moors of the North Sea and the estate of her supposed family.

The mystery of her mother's death haunts her, and though her father is quick to accept her, the rest of the family and the servants of Whitby Park are not. Only when Brook's life is threatened do they draw close--but will their loyalty come too late to save Brook from the same threat that led to tragedy for her mother?

As heir to a dukedom, Justin is no stranger to balancing responsibilities. When the matters of his estate force him far from Brook, the distance between them reveals that their friendship has grown into something much more. But how can their very different loyalties and responsibilities ever come together?

And then for a second time, the heiress of Whitby Park is stolen away because of the very rare treasure in her possession--and those who can save her still aren't sure whom to trust.

My Review:
This was the first book I’ve read by this author and I really enjoyed it. It was a really nice combination of historical fiction with a little bit of mystery. It was set in 1910 England and was told from the POV of Brook and Justin.

Brook grows up in Monaco but doesn’t really know who she is or where she belongs. After her mother dies, she finds some old letters with a seal on it that she gives to her friend Justin to research when he’s back in England. He discovers she might be a long-lost heiress to Whitby Park.

Justin has had more than just friendly feelings for Brook for a while now. But he is in line to become the next Duke of Stafford and can’t really marry a nobody – although he might like too. The fact that Brook might be an heiress might change things, but he doesn’t want to lose her friendship – what will become of their relationship?

I really enjoyed the story of this book. I really draws the reader in and keeps you guessing. There is just enough intrigue to make it interesting without losing the rest of the story.

There are a couple “villains” who you might not guess were going to turn out that way at the beginning. I liked that the relationship between Justin and Brook took its time even though they had known each other since they were children. It had a nice natural journey to it.

I would definitely read some more books by this author. I did think the book was kind of long, but not in a bad way. It just seemed longer than some of the similar books I’ve read by Bethany House Publishers, but I don’t want anyone to think that made this book boring to read. It was interesting the whole way through.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this by book from the publisher for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are strictly my own and no other compensation was received.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Book Review: Hearts Made Whole by Jody Hedlund

Book Details:
Title: Hearts Made Whole
Author: Jody Hedlund
2015, Bethany House 
ISBN: 978-0764212383
Genre: Christian Historical Fiction

Book Summary:
1865, Windmill Point, Michigan
Can She Forgive the Hurting Man Who Costs Her the Role She Loves?

After her father's death, Caroline Taylor has grown confident running the Windmill Point Lighthouse. But in 1865 Michigan, women aren't supposed to have such roles, so it's only a matter of time before the lighthouse inspector appoints a new keeper--even though Caroline has nowhere else to go and no other job available to her.

Ryan Chambers is a Civil War veteran still haunted by the horrors of battle. He's secured the position of lighthouse keeper mostly for the isolation--the chance to hide from his past is appealing. He's not expecting the current keeper to be a feisty and beautiful woman who's angry with him for taking her job and for his inability to properly run the light. When his failings endanger others, he and Caroline realize he's in no shape to run the lighthouse, but he's unwilling to let anyone close enough to help. Caroline feels drawn to this wounded soul, but with both of them relying on that single position, can they look past their loss to a future filled with hope...and possibly love?

My Review:
This is the second full novel in the Beacons of Hope series. Let me start by saying that I love the historical aspects of this novel and the previous book and novella. Before this, I'd not been aware that there were so many lighthouses around the Great Lakes (although it makes sense, I'd just never though about it). I have enjoyed learning about the light keepers duties, lives and the women who helped. I always appreciate how the author ties her stories somewhat around a real historical person or event.

That all being said, this wasn't my favorite book. Her characters, as usual, were well developed and the story was richly written, but I sometimes have a few issues with the romance portion.In this case, Caroline Taylor, the daughter of the former light keeper, although a smart woman, allowed herself to become too attached to a drug addict/drunk. I had a hard time believing she would risk her reputation and that of her sister and continue living at the lighthouse with the new (drunk) of a light keeper.

Not that I didn't like the drunk character! Ryan Chambers is the carry-over character from the first novel and I enjoyed hearing about what had become of him. I think his struggle with alcohol is real and the author does a great job of showing how much of a struggle staying sober is even when it is what the person wants to do. He epitomizes the redeeming grace of God and our need to lean on Him instead of ourselves or others.

As for other secondary characters, there was Caroline's younger sister who I couldn't stand from page 1 and the evil tavern owner from town and his weird son who I knew something was off with early on in the story. Unfortunately, even with all the good writing and colorful characters, the story fell a little flat for me. The romance was good, but the circumstances and problems they faced seemed too contrived for me to really enjoy completely. I found myself frustrated with Caroline's character over and over again.

I think this is a great series, and I love the historical elements, but this wasn't my favorite novel. A good read, but not a great one.

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Paw Patrol Birthday Party

Zachary is THREE - three! - how did that happen? This was a exciting birthday because this was his first birthday where he was walking independently! Hooray!! Some parents get excited when their child is walking by their first birthday - I'm thrilled that he's walking at his third. =) 

Zach's most favorite thing at the moment is Nick Jr's Paw Patrol. I have to admit, of all the cartoons out there, this one is pretty good. It's less annoying than a lot of the other options. I'm always a little anti character-themed parties, but he loves it so much that I made an exception this year.

We were celebrating on a Sunday afternoon after church and were going to be out of town most of that Saturday, so I couldn't have too much crazy prep going on.

My mom helped me out and printed this banner from the Nick Jr website and sewed it to a ribbon. Thanks Mom!

My friend Stephanie made this cake for the party. Zach thought it was great that all the puppies were on it. =)

Of course he got some great Paw Patrol gifts that he and his brother have spent the next few days arguing over.....

I checked out some other great party's on Pinterest and picked my favorite ideas from a few. My husband grilled hot dogs for everyone, we had Pawtato Salad, Pupcorn and two types of Puppy Chow. I did the Cinnamon Curro and S'mores Puppy Chow (that one was a huge hit). I bought these great dog bowls at Dollar Tree! They were the perfect serving size for my snacks! I downloaded the blank food labels from Mom's Tot School and just hand wrote on them with a Sharpie.

Here's a lovely mid-party messy view of the table.... =)

I did get some Paw Patrol plates, napkins, tablecloth and balloons for the party. Although we had a few late minute RSVPs, so I dug in my past party supplies and found some blue plates and red napkins to supplement! Whew!

We just had lemonade in my lovely teardrop dispenser from World Market (I just couldn't handle drinking something that was called "Toilet Water" like I saw of a few other sites...) and some mason jar cups with fun straws. I printed off a little sign for the front door (sorry for the blurry photo) and printed off some graphics from the Nick Jr website for gift bags. The name tags were some more blank food labels from Mom's Tot School

I wish I'd remembered to take a photo of what was inside the gift bags, but it was a packet of coloring pages I'd printed off the Nick Jr website, a 4-pack of crayon's from Party City in Paw Patrol boxes, a small doggie tennis ball (Target), a mask of one of the dogs, a package of Annie's fruit snacks and some Paw Patrol tattoos and stickers also purchased at Party City.

It was a fun party, but I'm happy that the party-planning is now over for the year - birthday's are stressful! =)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

First Summer Camping Trip

We like to take several camping trips each summer if we can manage it. It is my husband's busy time at work, but if we schedule far enough in advance we can make it happen.

This past week, the four of us plus my parents headed over to the eastern half of the state to Lake Pearrygin State Park. This was a new camp spot for us and our campsite was right on the lake! I was concerned it was going to be crazy crowded, but apparently we lucked out by going mid-week (Tues-Fri) and only the last day did the annoying neighbors show up. =)

The view from our campsite:

I was a little nervous about this location and Zachary drowning, but it was up on a bank and considering he's not very adventurous, I didn't have to worry too much. We had a nice relaxing week. The boys always love camping. I used this link from Pinterest and some leftover bags from Malachi's Hot Wheel birthday party this past March (which I apparently posted nothing about!) and put together a scavenger hunt for them. Zach is really too young, but he liked walking around with his big brother anyway. 

My mom and I tried out a few new meals (mostly her ideas). We had a camping pizza which was a big success, cooked our cornbread like pancakes to go with our chili and campfire french toast (moderately successful... if I'd followed the instructions correctly it might have been better!)

Malachi was excited to be able to fish right off the side of the lake. He learned to cast out a line pretty well over those couple days.

We walked around the nearby town of Winthrop, which is a little touristy old-timey town. Then we headed out to see the Falls Creek Waterfall. It was just a short little hike, but had a beautiful view.

All in all a fun trip! Already have a site scoped out for next year and ideas for what to do and bring since we've got a better idea of what's in the area. =)

I'll leave you with this.... this is what fun looks like... maybe too much fun. =)

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Book Review: The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert

Book Details:
Title: The Art of Losing Yourself
Author: Katie Ganshert
2015, Waterbrook Press
ISBN: 978-1601425928
Genre: Christian Contemporary Fiction

Book Summary:
Just like in my dream, I was drowning and nobody even noticed.

Every morning, Carmen Hart pastes on her made-for-TV smile and broadcasts the weather. She’s the Florida panhandle’s favorite meteorologist, married to everyone’s favorite high school football coach. They’re the perfect-looking couple, live in a nice house, and attend church on Sundays. From the outside, she’s a woman who has it all together.  But on the inside, Carmen Hart struggles with doubt. She wonders if she made a mistake when she married her husband. She wonders if God is as powerful as she once believed. Sometimes she wonders if He exists at all. After years of secret losses and empty arms, she’s not so sure anymore.

Until Carmen’s sister—seventeen year old runaway, Gracie Fisher—steps in and changes everything. Gracie is caught squatting at a boarded-up motel that belongs to Carmen’s aunt, and their mother is off on another one of her benders, which means Carmen has no other option but to take Gracie in. Is it possible for God to use a broken teenager and an abandoned motel to bring a woman’s faith and marriage back to life? Can two half-sisters make each other whole?    

My Review:
As always, Katie Ganshert writes a beautiful story. The characters are well developed and the writing is lovely. This was a modern day story, set in Florida’s panhandle. Carmen Hart is the local TV meteorologist and she is married to the local high school football coach. They look like they have the perfect life from the outside… but on the inside they are struggling. They have been trying to have a baby of their own for years now and the longer the process takes, the more withdrawn Carmen becomes.

Enter her younger sister, Gracie. Gracie’s life looks like a total mess on the outside. She doesn’t fit in, her mother is an alcoholic, and she is always getting into trouble in school. When Carmen finds Gracie living in a vacant motel, she takes Gracie home with her and that stirs everything up.

To be honest, I struggled with this book some. Not because the story wasn’t good or because the characters weren’t believable – because they were very real – but because it was very sad. At one point, I put the book down and just had a heavy weight on my chest from all the hurts in this book. Yes, there is hope and redemption and restoration, but the road to get there is very bleak, depressing and hard. My sorrow for Carmen’s character had me feeling her pain on many occasions and I almost didn’t want to continue on at some points because I was afraid of what was going to happen.

My favorite character in this book was Carmen’s husband Ben. He is a wonderful man who is full of integrity and love for his wife, but he wasn’t perfect. There were a couple times I was expecting a royal screw-up on his part (thank you to the author for not letting it happen… I don’t think I could have handled it) but he kept clinging to his faith, his family and his dreams throughout the story.

There are also many colorful secondary characters, Aunt Ingrid who has dementia (also a sad aspect to the story) Elias, Gracie’s friend and Carmen and Gracie’s mom were all great additions to the storyline.
So… if you want to read a beautifully written story of faith and redemption that is woven with realistic life doubts and crisis this is a great read. If you can’t stand sad book, then this is not the book for you.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in return for my honest review. No other compensation was received and all thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

When Was Your Last Check-Up?

Did you know that May is Woman’s Health Month? Me neither.  Good timing though, because I just got in to see my doctor this month for my three-year well-check up with my doctor. To be honest, I’d never even met this doctor before because I’ve only see my OB or midwife over the past 7 years. This past November my regular check-up came due and I put it off until now….because who really wants to go in for those exams? No one, right? But, now that I’m in my thirties, I feel like it’s really important to pay attention to my health and staying healthy. Keeping up on these routine exams is one way of doing that.

Lucky for me, I don’t currently have any risk factors and all my tests this time around came back normal (hooray!). Getting regular check-ups are so important though, so that you can catch any potential problems early or maybe even be encouraged to make some lifestyle changes before they become a problem at all!

The past few months, I’ve been working on getting out at walking for some exercise on a regular basis and I’ve started an exercise program to help strengthen my core muscles to help with back pain. I’m hoping that by living a healthier life now, I can stay that way longer.

I want to encourage all the ladies out there to learn something new about women’s health this month. Here is a little graphic to help you know what you need to do and how often to get it done. =)

I want to encourage all the ladies out there to learn something new about women’s health this month. Here is a little graphic from Oscar Insurance to help you know what you need to do and how often to get it done. =) Oscar offers health insurance in the New York and New Jersey areas and concentrates on providing technology to help make these check-ups and their entire healthcare an easier process. Their new type of health insurance plans offer services with the Oscar app such as the Doctor on Call tool that allows their members to speak directly with their doctor through the app without having to make an appointment or take a trip to the office.