Friday, October 31, 2014

Book Review: The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

Book Details:
Title:  The Daughter of Highland Hall 
Series:  Edwardian Brides #2
Author: Carrie Turansky
2014, Waterbrook Press
ISBN: 9781601424983
Genre: Christian Historical Fiction

Book Summary:
Eighteen-year-old Katherine Ramsey travels to London with her family to make her debut into society and hopefully find her future husband. Her overbearing aunt insists she must secure a proposal from a wealthy young man who is in line to inherit his father’s title and estate. But Katherine questions her aunt’s plans when she gets to know Jonathan Foster, a handsome medical student and strong Christian who is determined to protect the poor and vulnerable in London’s East End.

When a family scandal puts a damper on Katherine’s hopes for the season, she has time to volunteer with Jonathan, caring for children in one of London’s poorest areas, and romance blossoms. Katherine’s faith grows and she begins to envision a different future with Jonathan. But when Katherine’s work in the East End puts her in danger, Jonathan distances himself from Katherine to protect her. A wealthy suitor reappears, and Katherine must choose which path to follow. 

My Review:
I read the first book in this series The Governess of Highland Hall. This book picks up right after that, but I think it could easily be read as a stand-alone book. There are definitely references to the past book and a tiny bit of the continuing story of Julia Foster and Sir William Ramsey, but I do not think it would make the reader confused.

This was a pretty good story set in London England during the Season in the early 1900’s. Katherine Ramsey is coming out for her debut Season in London and is trying to find a suitable husband. She is looking for a wealthy man with a title, of course. Her aunt takes her to her presentation to the Queen and to all the high society parties.

Jonathan Foster is finishing up his medical training and is trying to make a decision for his future. Does he go back to India to continue in the missionary work of his parents, or does he make is own way and work at the local hospital or the free clinic in the East End. The more he works with the poor in the East End, the more he feels pulled there. Katherine starts volunteering with Jonathan at the clinic and grows to love the work.

There is also an interesting side story going on about Katherine’s lady’s maid Lydia and her sister Helen. Helen has run off from the family farm to London with a man! Lydia is extremely worried for her and Katherine and Jonathon offer to help her find her sister. They come to find her living in a very unsavory place and have to work together to get her out of her situation.

The budding romance between Katherine and Jonathan was very genuine, I thought. It wasn’t forced or contrived and I felt like it moved at a moderate pace. There were the usual misunderstandings, but what relationship isn’t?

I felt like this was a pretty good read. It was interesting to read about places like the East End and their conditions and also about the opposite side of society like the presentation to the royal family.

Additional Book Info:
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Author Bio

Disclosure: I was provided with a free copy of this book free of charge by Blogging for Books for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book Review: A Love Undone by Cindy Woodsmall

Book Details
Title: A Love Undone
Author: Cindy Woodsmall
2014, Waterbrook Press
ISBN: 9780307730008
Genre:  Christian Fiction

Book Summary
A husband and son abandoned to forge a path alone.
A young woman who sacrificed her dreams.
How will the God of grace and hope help them find their way?

At nineteen years old, Old Order Amish Jolene Keim was on the brink of happily-ever-after when everything changed, stealing the future she expected and burdening her with an unbearable decision. For the next ten years, Jolene throws herself into family life—and then she meets Andy Fisher. The horse trainer and father to a sweet nine year-old challenges her and holds up a mirror to issues Jolene has been unwilling to face.

Andy is cautious about his deepening friendship with Jolene, but he believes she knows the truth about him – that he is a grass widower. As a man whose wife has abandoned him six years past, he is unable to divorce or remarry according to the Amish ways. Andy has wrestled with God concerning his reality, and he had found peace with the solitary future facing him…until he met Jolene.

As Andy and Jolene find themselves confronted by difficult choices, will they trust in God's guidance—or will the allure of their deepening friendship only lead to further temptation?

My Review
I always enjoy these Amish stories by Cindy Woodsmall and this one was no exception. Sometimes I feel that Amish fiction is very much in a box. Authors tend to write the same story over and over, but I usually feel like these are a little different and tackle different issues.

This story is about Jolene Keim and Andy Fisher. We met Andy briefly in the novella Dawn of Christmas. Andy is a “grass widower”, a man whose wife has left him – and the Amish faith – but according to the Amish ways, he is still bound to her in marriage and cannot divorce or marry another. He seems to have been fairly content or resigned to this role of raising his young son along until he meets Jolene.

Jolene gave up her dreams of a family of her own as the oldest of about 5 children and their parents die in a freak accident. She takes on raising her siblings alone…. but when she meets Andy she thinks she might have another chance at love. Andy challenges her to face her fears and become a better person despite the things that have happened to her in her past.

I was a little frustrated with their growing relationship and the fact that Jolene had a hard time accepting Andy’s situation even after she found out the truth about it, but honestly – relationships are complicated and messy.  Overall though, this was a good book. It tackles some of the interesting points in the Amish lifestyle, but makes you feel like the people are realistic.

A very good read for those who love Amish fiction!

Additional Resources

Disclosure: I was provided with a free copy of this book free of charge by Blogging for Books for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Projects, Cleaning and Pinterest

I have been making an attempt to actually use some of my Pinterest pins. There are SO many - does anyone else ever feel overwhelmed by the gazillions of ideas out there? Truth is, I could probably live to a hundred and not use all my pins, but that doesn't seem to keep me from finding more!

One I decided a couple months ago that I was going to do was to make a pumpkin out of canning rings for Fall. Check! Done!

Cute right? This one is sitting next to my TV in the living room, but I made another one with the wide mouth lids for my dining room table. LOVE!

On a more unpleasant note, I ended up with an unexpected day off from work today. Malachi got sick last night.... very sick... several times. Very strange because there was no fever and he seemed almost normal today, but last night was not fun. I  washed A LOT of laundry today, sheets, mattress covers (he started in my bed and moved to his own.....) pillow cases, pajamas... you get the picture. So I decided to hunt down one of my pins buried in a Cleaning/Household Ideas board for washing pillows (I had two different methods pinned, of course, so I picked the simplest one). Amazing!

This is seriously TMI, but I couldn't believe the difference. The original blogger suggested doing this every 2-3 months - I just might had to attempt that after seeing these results. These are my pillows.

Kind of incredible the difference right? I'm looking forward to sleeping on these pillows tonight. Malachi's got done today too, but I'm going to do my husband's and any other pillows I can find sometime this week.

And lastly... I have about a MILLION recipes pinned. Many, many of them are pumpkin related. I could obviously make these any time of the year, but for some reason I can only do it when it's cold outside. =) Tonight I made these copycat Starbucks pumpkin scones....

Granted, mine do not have the yummy frosting on them yet (although that was also provided in the recipe), but they are still super yummy. I think if I make them again (or I should say when) I will definitely put more spices than called for in them, but other than that they definitely satisfied my pumpkin craving for the day. 

I felt like a accomplished a lot today AND marked a few things off my Pinterest To-Do list as well!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Smooth Mornings

Who doesn't want their mornings to be as simple as possible? Probably everyone, but it's especially nice for people like me who are not morning people at all. If it were up to me, I'd probably lay around it bed until 10am everyday (maybe its a good thing its not up to me!) When I actually DO make it out of bed (at 7:30 if I'm lucky, not 10), I'm really not too awake for awhile.... and if I worked the night before until 11:30pm... I'm probably really not with it.

Sooo... I've tried to make our mornings to school as easy as possible. I make Malachi's lunch the night before and stick the whole packed thing in the refrigerator. The only thing I add is a frozen tube of yogurt as we walk out the door (amazingly I've never forgotten this).

One of my favorite time savers was part of a project I started back before summer ended. I wasn't quite sure how I was going to do it or if it was really going to be worth it, but it turned out great! (I originally got this idea from TheGunnySack blog)

I had purchased this 6 cubbie hanging shelf at Target for about $6.99, I think. They had a nicer, sturdier looking one, but it cost more, so I didn't get it. I wasn't sure if I'd want the 6th shelf eventually, so I have temporarily pinned it up with a super fancy binder clip... I know... really amazing right? Honestly, I think I could use the last shelf for Sunday morning church clothes, but then it starts getting down around his shoes...... so I"m thinking of just officially tacking up the  bottom shelf.

My mom is amazing and made the little hanging days of the week tags for me. I think she printed on the fabric with her printer (using the tutorial from the originally blog post, I think) and then she sewed them to the blue background. They are nice kinda thick, so they don't get bent up. 

I wasn't sure how I was going to attach them, but I finally just decided to take the old needle and thread and tack the corners. They are easily removable if I ever wanted to do something else with it (or possibly get the nicer hanging shelf and move the labels over to that one).

Anyway... it is great!!! So worth the effort! On Sunday, I just look at the weather report for the week and make sure he had the right clothes. I put everything in the cubbie for that day including socks and underwear. When the weather was nice and he was wearing shorts, I'd even put his sneakers in the Friday cubbie, so he'd remember he needed them for P.E. that day and couldn't wear sandals. He just gets up in the morning and puts on those clothes for the day. I don't have to worry about if he's matching, wearing something weather appropriate or if there are enough clean pants for the week... it's all done! Hooray!

Now... if I could just talk my husband into dropping him off at school in the morning, so I don't have to do it, my mornings would be about as good as they could get. =)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Family Photos

We recently had some new professional family photos taken. I used to have a friend who did them for free, but I lost contact with her for awhile and had to find someone new! It was hard! There are so many of them out there these days. I discovered a girl from our church was doing photos and decided to use her since Malachi already knew her.

The last time we had photos done was when we had Zach's newborn shoot. Two years! I think they turned out really great.

Here is my little model... he loves doing this.
This was before Zach was really walking around much on his own. And he was super shy.... 

And of course a few family shots... my husband is always thrilled when I decided to get pictures done (did you catch the sarcasm there?) I love how she  caught the evening light in this shoot....

And here's one of my favorite. It was completely by chance that these two pictures were taken. The one on the left is of Malachi at about 18 months, I think and the one on the right is of Zachary, age 2. Love it that we got these two almost matching photos of these brothers.

And there concludes the photo display for the day. Love the memories that are captured during these photo shoots. Personalities are visible and it's amazing how quickly the boys change at this age. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Back to School

We have been in a bit of a crazy mode with Malachi starting school this month. It always seems that everything starts all at once! 

Malachi has school... can I just say I'm not enjoying getting up in time to get everyone fed and out of the house each morning. I'm only thankful that he doesn't have to be there until 8:40 am... any earlier and I'd probably die.

Can I just take this time to make a public service announcement? It is never okay to go out in public without a bra on? There are actually people who drop their kids of (and then pick them back up at 3:00 pm!) with no bra on. So you're wearing a sweatshirt? Too bad... they rest of us can still tell you don't have a bra on. Sorry to break it to you. And if you don't care.... hm... I'm not sure what to say about that.

For me, MOPS and Women's Bible Study have started up again. They are now much easier to get to those places on time because I'm already up and dressed. 

Because of Zach's evaluation with the school district last year to get him his needed physical therapy, he now qualifies for a free parent/toddler class. I didn't quite realize when I said we'd join that it's EVERY Thursday morning. Sigh.... another commitment.  It was very good though and I think he really enjoyed it. It is fun to do something special with just Zach. I did something similar with Malachi when he was a toddler. I might have to cut out something else... I haven't decided quite yet.

Malachi has become obsessed with Hot Wheels recently. He's watches demonstrations on YouTube.... he would rather watch that on TV than regular cartoons! Crazy! Now when he plays with his own Hot Wheels he wants me to video him and post HIS videos to YouTube. They are hilarious!

I have a bunch of projects I want to do. I thought I was going to have all this extra time with Malachi in school.... and I do... but I still don't feel like I've been very productive. I honestly almost feel more tired! I have a dresser to paint and use as my media console and I want to build a book caddy thingy for Zach's room (okay...actually I want my husband to build it so I can paint it). Hopefully I get to those things in the near future and then I'll have something to post here that seems productive!!

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.

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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.