Monday, February 29, 2016

Prohibition Bakery by Leslie Feinberg with Brooke Siem | Cookbook Review

Prohibition Bakery

First Impressions Reading Through:
What a gorgeous cookbook!  Glossy, full-color pages through and through.  Every recipe gets a couple of pages, and these are set on a backdrop that looks like a well-loved sheet pan.  There are also photos from the 1920's scattered throughout.  I especially loved the ones showing the women marching/organizing/hanging posters to get the right to vote!

The cookbook opens with Leslie and Brooke giving advice on which kitchen tools you actually need, and which are expendable.  I loved that the list of tools needed to make their beautiful cupcakes was so short!  In fact, I already owned nearly everything they suggested owning.  (I don't have a candy thermometer.)  They also shared the story of how Prohibition Bakery came to be.  The authors have a very down-to-earth manner of writing, which is very welcoming.  It felt more like diving into an evening of baking with girlfriends than being told what to do by a pro chef.  (Not to say that they're not super talented in the kitchen.  They just "felt" more approachable.)

This cookbook definitely gives you your money's worth!  There are more than 50 unique recipes in it!  You would have to be a really, really, really picky eater to not find at least one cupcake that looked appealing.

The only tiny drawback to this cookbook?  It's the size of an average novel, and hardcover, so it doesn't lay flat open.  Totally surmountable if you have a recipe/cookbook holder.

Recipes I Tried:
None.  And that was so hard to resist doing!  You see, I'm currently expecting, and the booze in these cupcakes is not baked in.  It's added to the cupcakes' filling and frosting at the end, so it's in full alcoholic effect.  Ohmygoodness... I totally plan to re-request this cookbook from my library as soon as Baby Harris is weaned!

I totally recommend this cookbook!  And if you try any of the recipes, please don't be shy about letting me know just how delicious the cupcakes are:  I am not ashamed to live vicariously through others!

*I checked out my copy of Prohibition Bakery from my local library.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves

Happy Saturday, y'all!  Today I'm over at Tynga's Reviews, hosting Stacking the Shelves.  To see what I brought home this week and to join in the fun yourself, click on the image above.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Christmas at Biltmore by The Biltmore Company | Book Review

(This was the only image I could find to use, and it's definitely much darker than the actual cover.  Just so you know.)

A short review of a short book!  You could certainly call this a coffee table book.  Lots of great pictures and photos; short vignettes of stories and historical facts.

Hubby and I got this book while on our babymoon back in December.  We went to the Biltmore for their special Christmas festivities.  :)  We'd done it once before, and we recommend it.  They do cool candlelight tours in the evenings during the holidays.

Anyway, this book is illustrated with gorgeous photos of the house all decked out in Christmas finery.  Since you're not allowed to take personal pictures inside the house, this book is a must-have if you want any.  There are also all these fun facts about Christmas at Biltmore when the Vanderbilts still lived there, and tidbits about the work that goes into the decorating.  There are photos taken in the early 1900s, and some quotes from some of the Vanderbilts' holiday guests.  Then, at the very end, there are even a few pages that tell you how to reproduce some the Biltmore's signature decorations (like fancy bows and themed trees) in your own home!

*I own my copy of Christmas at Biltmore.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Meridian by Josin McQuein | Book Review

Meridian by Josin L. McQuein

Today I'm over at Tynga's Reviews, talking about Meridian, the sequel to Arclight.  Click on the cover image above to find out what I thought of it!

*I received my copy of Meridian from the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.  Thank you!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Please Don't Bite the Baby (And Please Don't Chase the Dogs): Keeping Our Kids and Our Dogs Safe and Happy Together by Lisa Edwards | Book Review

Please Don't Bite the Baby (and Please Don't Chase the Dogs): Keeping Our Kids and Our Dogs Safe and Happy Together
(Ohmygoodness.... is that not one of the cutest babies?!?  That hair!  Those chubby cheeks!  And the dog is adorable too!  I kept closing the book to look at the cover.)

Please Don't Bite the Baby was such a good read!  I really felt like it was such a good investment of my time to read.  The author is a professional dog trainer who owned three "special needs" dogs at the time when she adopted an infant boy.  The book gives advice from the perspective of a professional dog trainer about how to introduce an infant to a home with dogs, and from the perspective of a new mother bringing home an infant to a home with dogs.  It starts pre-baby, when the author and her husband begin trying to anticipate what will happen when they bring home baby, through to the toddler years.

I will go ahead and let you know that the author and her husband have careers that allow them to be home often, and the author does have a slight advantage, being a professional dog trainer.  But I love that she owns up to a few mistakes made, and candidly shares examples of times when even the best planning falls through.  It made me feel so much better, knowing that there were things I could definitely do now (in my third trimester with my first baby) to help prepare my beloved boxer, and knowing that even with all the prep in the world, there will be things to work out "in the moment" once baby comes home.  Even with my full-time away-from-home job I feel like I can accomplish a lot of the advised tips.

Each chapter tells a vignette of life with the new baby (then toddler), followed by a couple pages of practical training tips that anyone can try at home.  As I mentioned, the short essays of life in their house made me feel more reassured about my ability to handle my own transition, and the training tips were so much more than just commands/tricks.  There was also professional advice about handling all the extra visitors and how to choose a dog-sitter or kennel if needed.  While it's not a pleasant or comfortable topic, the author even spends a little under a page talking about how to know when/if rehoming your dog is the only option left.

I also appreciated that the book was about more than just "how to control your dog around your baby."  It also often looks at the situation from the dogs' point of view (so to speak); dogs have sensitive hearing, and a baby crying (or toddler screaming) can be upsetting.  Even the friendliest dog can get overwhelmed by a constant stream of guests ringing the doorbell to see the baby, and owners should set up a "safe space" or quiet area for the dog.

My dog really is a pretty good dog.  He's even been invited to visit the home of a relative who usually does not like dogs!  And yet I definitely picked up some tips for things I'm going to try to acclimate him to before baby arrives.  For instance, he really does love always being in the same room with people in the house.  I'm going to try to get him used to being behind a safety gate while people are in the house, so that our guests can come visit baby without the distraction of an often-overly exuberant boxer.  We've also started teaching him "settle," which is kind of like a relaxed "down" that is held longer.  That way he can still be at my feet, calmly (hopefully), while I feed or read to baby.

Not too long of a read, and chock full of reassurance and advice, I do recommend this one!

*I checked out my copy of Please Don't Bite the Baby from my local library.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a fun meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  For more information, or to join the fun yourself, check out their blog!

Top Ten Seven Books I Enjoyed Recently That Weren't in My Typical Reading Life

So... turns out I didn't deviate too much from my "usual" in the past year or so.  And I'm pretty eclectic in taste, anyway, so my "usual" actually encompasses quite a number of genres.  When I did deviate, I only enjoyed about half of them.  So here are the top seven deviations...

The Martian
1. The Martian by Andy Weir.  I LOVED LOVED LOVED this one!  I had shied away from space-setting sci-fi before, but I'm so glad that I took a chance on this one!

Food: A Love Story
2. Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan.  I don't usually read celeb memoirs, but this one was really, really good!  Laughed out loud through the whole thing.

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3. Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins.  Working in Teen Services, I don't often read picture books.  So glad I picked up this one!  I even passed along the recommendation to my aunt to enjoy too.

Situation Momedy: A First-Time Mom's Guide To Laughing Your Way Through Pregnancy & Year One
4. Situation Momedy by Jenna Von Oy.  Another celeb memoir!  I took two chances on these this past year.  Another one that made me literally laugh out loud.  :)

Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II
5. Elephant Company by Vicki Croke.  I don't often read WWII history books (I get anxiety for the people featured!) but this one was totally different- it focused on a guy who used a "staff" of elephants and elephant riders to help save lives in Burma.

Fox Bunny Funny
6. Fox Bunny Funny by Andy Hartzell.  No words!  None!  I've never read a wordless book before.  This one was pretty darn good, too.

American Quartet (Fiona FitzGerald Mysteries, #1)
7. American Quartet by Warren Adler.  It's a contemporary adult police murder mystery.  I can't remember ever reading one of these before, and it was definitely enjoyable.  I had "found" Warren Adler when I read Trans-Siberian Express a while back- he's an author worth checking out.

And you?  What books have you read recently that took you out of your comfort zone?  Leave a comment and I'll be sure to visit you too- I love seeing what others are reading!

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith | Book Review

The Forever Girl
(I do like this cover, don't you?  I want to go to that beach.)

The Forever Girl is the parallel story of Amanda & David and Clover & James.  Amanda and David have been married for quite a while; they're in their 30s and have two kids and a comfortable life in the Cayman Islands.  One day Amanda realizes that she's simply fallen out of love with David.  There's no acrimony; just apathy.  At the same time, Amanda's daughter Clover realizes that she's in love with James, the "boy next door."  (He's actually a few doors down, but they've grown up together and he's just that wholesome "boy next door" type of guy.)  Amanda meets James' father one night for drinks, and almost goes too far, but doesn't.  Clover and James go off to different boarding high schools and lose touch.  Amanda doesn't divorce David, but does move to Scotland.

It sounds like a lot to keep track of, but it's really not.  Really, the story is mostly Amanda and Clover as they negotiate some pretty complicated feelings for the guys in their lives.  The chapters don't alternate evenly, but they do switch back and forth from Amanda's point of view to Clover's and back again.

I was at first uncomfortable with what seemed like it was going to be a book ok'ing marital infidelity.  But then Amanda stopped herself!  I was pretty stoked about that.  I mean, I was sad that she felt that she and David needed to separate, and that she should move so far away.  But I was glad that infidelity didn't really seem like an option for her (or David, although it's never truly confirmed as what he was up to while she was living in Scotland).  You might know by now if you follow my reviews that I also get excited about books with somewhat normal, supportive family units.  Amanda and David never completely divorce, and they are both super supportive of their kids.  Amanda and Clover remain close throughout the whole book.

I became uncomfortable through the latter half of the book with Clover's obsession with James.  Even though they go to separate boarding schools in separate countries, she doesn't ever date anyone else.  She's just pining away for James... who may or may not even remember she exists.  Then comes college.  They actually end up at the same college, by chance, but in separate degree programs so they never run into each other.  Clover continues to pine.  After they graduate, they both go off on "gap years" and live, again, in separate countries.  (She in Scotland; he in Australia.  Can't get much farther apart.)  And guess what?  The pining continues.  By the end of the book, I was actually pretty fed up with Clover.  I didn't find it romantic or cute that she would go to such lengths of angst for this guy.  They hadn't really hung out in person since they were preteens!  And yet she grows into a full adult still so friggin' fixated on him that she's disrupting her life in pursuit!

One thing Alexander McCall Smith does really, really well is setting and atmosphere, and The Forever Girl is no exception.  Even if I did get frustrated by one of the characters, I was 100% hooked in the book by the setting.  First the warm, sunny, vibrant, colorful Caribbean.  Then the muted grays and greens of cooler Scotland.  And finally, the hot, wide-open Australia.  I could practically feel the mugginess of the Caymans and see the gray of the ocean in Scotland.  I actually really loved the housekeeper/nanny, Margaret, employed by Amanda and David.  She's Jamaican, and a transplant to the Caymans.  She's got great spirit and spunk.  I'd have liked to have even more of her in the book!

Overall, I give The Forever Girl about 3.5 stars out of 5.  Not head over heels with the plot, but definitely loved the atmosphere.  I don't regret a minute spent reading it, but I can't think of anyone to recommend it to.

*I received an advanced copy of The Forever Girl from the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.  Thank you!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

PopSugar Reading Challenge Update!


Happy Saturday!  Last Saturday I hosted Stacking the Shelves over on Tynga's Reviews, so this post will cover the last two weeks' reading.  I get to add On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo with Robert Bucknam, as a book recommended by a family member.

Previously, I've read:
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, which is a book set in Europe.

The Fireflies Book by Brett Ortler, which is a book that's under 150 pages.

Prohibition Bakery by Leslie Feinberg with Brooke Siem, which is a book I can finish in a day.

Situation Momedy: A First-Time Mom's Guide to Laughing Your Way Through Pregnancy & Year One by Jenna Von Oy, which is a book written by a celebrity.

What We Lost in the Dark by Jacquelyn Mitchard, which is a murder mystery.

The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith, which is a book with a blue cover.

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan, which is a book from the library.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Fireflies Book by Brett Ortler | Book Review

Firefly Book

A short review for a short book!  A very short book.  I read it at work, on the reference desk, and it only took me about half an hour.  Still, it was packed with pictures and information.  I learned about a new-to-me firefly species (the Blue Ghost) and learned that there are year-round synchronous fireflies in southeast Asia, where my cousin lives.  I'm a little jealous!  (I live in the southeast US, and we only get about two weeks of synchronous fireflies each year.)

I got this book while on a camping trip with my family last year to see the aforementioned synchronous fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Not only do I recommend The Fireflies Book for any and all ages, I DEFINITELY  recommend trying to go see the synchronous fireflies if you can!  An indescribably awesome experience.

*I own my copy of The Fireflies Book.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh

Today I'm over at Tynga's Reviews, talking about how excited I ended up being about this book!  Click on the cover image above to find out more.

*I purchased my copy of Shovel Ready.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

March by Geraldine Brooks | Book Review

March

March is a parallel story to Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, but told from Mr. March's point of view.  It tells his experiences during the year that he spent as a chaplain and educator in the Union forces during the Civil War.

While the story itself may have been somewhat interesting, it was lost in the stiff, stilted language.  I consider myself a voracious reader, and I found it difficult to get through this book.  It's been years (decades, maybe, even) since I read Little Women, but I don't recall it being so formally written.  Then again, Little Women is often cataloged YA, and March was cataloged Adult.  I suppose the language is kind of appropriate for the historic period, but it made for difficult reading for this contemporary gal.

Mr. March spends a good deal of time in abolitionary work, and in educating newly freed slaves during the war.  This is good, important work... and Mr. March knows it.  He comes across pretty self-righteous.  

This will be a short review... unfortunately, I just didn't care for this book.  I was introduced to it through the summer AudioSync program; it was the companion listen for Little Women.  Sadly, the download failed and I was only able to listen to about two chapters before having to switch over to the print edition.  Oh well.  This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006.  So I actually feel a little bad about myself for not being able to get into it.  Maybe my literary taste runs more toward biblioMcDonald's than bibliosteakhouse.

*I checked out my copy of March from my local library.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah | Audiobook Review

The Nightingale

OHMYGOODNESS Y'ALL.  THIS BOOK.  It's hard for me to even think where to begin describing the awesomeness of this book!  It was recommended to me by a family member, last year, when I was working on the 2015 PopSugar Reading Challenge and needed a recommendation of a book that might make me cry.  I didn't actually shed any tears during this one, but came very, very close.  (In fact, I've only ever actually cried during three books:  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, and Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon.  It takes a lot for me to actually physically cry at a book.)

The Nightingale is the dual story of two sisters and their actions during WWII in France.  There's Vianne, who is married and a mother of a young daughter, and Isabelle, who is just coming of age.  The girls' mother passed away when they were quite young, and their father is a bit distant.  Nowadays, we'd readily recognize that he suffers PTSD from his time serving in WWI, but back then they didn't have the terminology for his suffering.

The blurb on the back of the book says that this is "a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women."  So true.  This is a story that I hadn't experienced before; the story of French women in Nazi-occupied France during WWII.  My goodness, what a horrible time they had of it!  I had read dry accounts in history books of the bombings of Paris, and the terror that brought; I had never read of life in the country, where Nazi officers demanded food & board from ordinary citizens, and imposed newer stricter laws in the small towns.  As the book opens, Isabelle is sent to live with her sister in the country, where life is supposed to be better than in Paris.  There folks have enough land and know-how to farm to supplement their ration books, and the Nazis aren't supposed to be as prevalent, and the bombings aren't supposed to happen.  However, Isabelle arrives to find quite the different situation:  her sister's house abuts a Nazi airfield, and there's a German officer billeting in their house.  Refugees from Paris have ransacked and ruined the garden as they passed through, leaving no supplemental food for Vianne and her daughter Sophie.  Vianne's husband, along with many, many of the men in her town, is a POW in Germany, so there's no military income coming to them.

About 1/3 of the book through, I texted with the family member who recommended the book.  I told her how much I was loving it, and that I didn't know who I admired/wanted to be like more, Isabelle or Vianne!  They are both awesome in different ways.  Isabelle is on fire for life.  She's eighteen years old, and the world is her oyster.  Being such a rebel with such passion right at the outbreak of a war... of course she joins the underground resistance movement!  She's so strong and brave in her actions, doing things that I would never dream possible.  I did, however, cringe just a little at a few of her impetuous actions.  Then there's Vianne, who is supposed to be the responsible older sister.  She's been married and a mother since she was sixteen years old.  She keeps a house and teaches school.  She is just as strong and brave, just in another way.  She continues to go to work and teach-shepherd-a group of scared young children who are all missing their fathers, and are hungry and cold.  She continues to stay strong and positive for Sophie, even after learning that her husband was a POW in Germany.  She supports her best friend and neighbor, even when the neighbors have to start wearing gold stars on their clothes.  I have trouble remembering many faults with the character of Vianne.

Oh, I should also mention the method in which the tale is told.  The book is framed as a story, a remembrance, being recounted by a very old woman near the end of her life.  She is about to move into a nursing home when she receives an invitation to come to Paris for a special banquet.  She decides impulsively to go.  There are only a few short chapters throughout the book set in 1995, just enough to get to know this older woman slightly.  It isn't until the end of the book that we learn who she is!

Speaking of the end of the book... you won't see it coming!  It's not what you expect at all, but it's not unbelievable either.  It's amazing how all the parts fall together at the end.  I listened to this on CD, and I literally had to just sit in my car this evening and let the final CD play out; I had to know how it ended!

The audiobook was fantastic, by the way.  The narrator had such a comfortable tone and cadence.  If the story wasn't so gripping, the narrator could have read me the phone book to fall asleep to.  I didn't have any difficulty understanding them at any time, and never had to fiddle with the volume.  She did a great American accent for the 1995 parts, and a lovely slight French accent for the bits set in France.  Even with the accent--not hard to understand!  Yay.  Another plus of listening to this book?  This (ignorant) American didn't have to try to figure out pronunciation of French places and names while reading.  :)

I give The Nightingale two incredibly positive thumbs up, and highly recommend.

PS I don't typically like to see "trigger warnings" on book reviews, but there is one scene in The Nightingale that could be a bit sensitive for women who have experienced very personal types of assaults.

*I checked out my copy of The Nightingale from my local library.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves

Today I'm over at Tynga's Reviews, stacking the shelves with all the books I've received in the last couple of weeks.  Click on the image above to see what all I've brought home, and to join in the fun yourself!

Friday, February 12, 2016

What We Lost in the Dark by Jacquelyn Mitchard | Book Review

What We Lost in the Dark (What We Saw at Night, #2)

Warning!  This is the sequel to What We Saw at Night.  If you haven't read that yet, you can check out my review of that book first HERE.

What We Lost in the Dark is darker even than What We Saw at Night!  Not only because the main characters are living with XP (xeroderma pigmentosa, an inability to be in sunlight), but also in mood and setting.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this duology to teens.  They've got so many cool, unique features to them!  First, there's the fact that everything takes place at night due to the main characters' condition.  What teen wouldn't want to have free reign of their town all night long, largely unsupervised?  Then the teens go and do cool extreme sports.  In What We Saw at Night they train in and participate in parkour; in What We Lost in the Dark they try out extreme free diving.  (And I mean extreme:  they go free diving in Lake Superior in December.  At night.  No way would I be up for that!)

This book opens a few weeks after Juliet's death.  Allie and Rob are, of course, grieving her loss.  Allie is acting out; Rob is retreating within himself.  They're still dating.  Ordinarily, I'd be a little prude-ish about how much time the teens are spending together unsupervised, but by this book they're both only weeks from being 18, and Allie has begun college.  Teens without XP would be moving out to go to college, unsupervised, at this point anyway.  But still, there's heavy allusion to some extracurricular bedroom activities occasionally (no details), so recommend to younger teens with caution.

At one point while reading What We Lost in the Dark I turned to hubby and said, "this book is so freaking compelling and interesting and page-turnerish... and yet it's all because of a series of very bad decision making by a teen!"  (Yes, I make up words in excitement when talking books.  Hubby is quite understanding of this.)  Usually I hate books where the whole plot is built upon a teen (or teens) making bad decisions.  For whatever reason, I loved it in this book.  I couldn't put it down!  Maybe because I knew that there was a "safety net" of parents who cared just out of view in the wings?  (Side note: Allie's mom, Jackie, might just be my fave character in the book.  She's everything I hope to be in a mom.)

So Allie is unable to let go of the mysterious phone messages that she received from "Juliet" after she had disappeared.  She's sent those on to an FBI contact.  She's also determined to keep investigating Garrett Tabor on her own.  (Bad decision #1....)  And because Allie's quite a determined little dynamo (she's a redhead), she's convinced Rob to help her as well.  I won't give away any spoilers, but I will tell you that it gets pretty intensely scary pretty quickly.  Allie is already feeling like Garrett is out to get her; then he catches her trying to investigate him further.  I'd be a nervous wreck!  But Allie?  She's still working a part-time internship and trying out free diving and working her own independent investigation.  The action never lets up.  This is a book I'd recommend maybe carving out a little time for, especially toward the end:  you'll need to know what happens next!  

For some reason, I was under the impression that this was a trilogy, so I was a bit surprised at how clear the ending was.  But then I did a little research, and it turns out this is only a duology.  I'll miss Allie and her friends in Iron Cove!  But on the flip side, you can also know that this isn't another YA trilogy.  I highly recommend this duology!

*I received an advanced copy of What We Lost in the Dark from the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.  Thank you!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh | Book Review

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Today I'm over at Tynga's Reviews, talking about The Wrath & the Dawn.  Click on the cover image above to find out what I loved about it!

*I own my copy of The Wrath & the Dawn.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Don't Waste Your Life Study Guide by John Piper | Book Review

Don't Waste Your Life Study Guide

Don't Waste Your Life Study Guide is a great companion to Don't Waste Your Life!  It breaks the book up into ten "lessons," and each "lesson" is five "days" long.  (You can, of course, work at your own pace if you're working alone.  I did it with a group.)

Each lesson begins with a clear objective, and tells the reader which chapters to read in the book.  Then there are 3-5 thought-provoking reflection questions each day to answer.  Not overly time-consuming, and really deepens the impact of the book.

There isn't a separate Leader's Guide appendix or anything; everyone has the same information.

I do recommend this accompanying guide to Don't Waste Your Life!

*I downloaded a free copy of Don't Waste Your Life Study Guide from the author's website, http://www.desiringgod.org/books/dont-waste-your-life.  As of 12/30/15, it is still available there for free.  Awesome!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper | Book Review

Don't Waste Your Life

Don't Waste Your Life is such a good, impactful book!  It's not long, but it packs a powerfully thought-provoking punch.

John Piper opens the book by relating a story about a couple who retire and move to the beach and spend their days playing golf and collecting seashells.  The American dream, right?  Piper spends the rest of the book telling us why that is actually a wasted life.

Not that there's anything wrong with enjoying life, or relaxing.  But Piper challenges us to use our lives to the absolute fullest.  Do we have an abundance of free time?  Could that time not be used in helping others and spreading the Word?  Or do you have an abundance of money?  Couldn't that money be better spent in the church's work rather than in the stock market?

He also talks about having a war-time faith rather than a peacetime faith.  In WWII, everyone pulled together to support the effort and the troops.  Citizens willingly went without or self-rationed in order to make sure the troops had what they needed.  We should also act on our faith in the same way.  We should pray every day as though heading into battle.

Piper, of course, explains these concepts a lot better than I just did, and in much better detail.  I highly recommend this book.  It's very accessible; no theological degree necessary to easily understand the message.

On Wednesday, look for my review of the study guide that pairs with Don't Waste Your Life!

*I downloaded a free copy of Don't Waste Your Life from the author's website, http://www.desiringgod.org/books/dont-waste-your-life.  As of 12/30/15, it is still available for free at the same place.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

PopSugar Reading Challenge Update!


Happy Saturday!  This week I didn't get to check any items off of the list!  I know:  shameful.  But I've got a good start, and I'll definitely keep going!

Previously, I've read:
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, which is a book set in Europe.

The Fireflies Book by Brett Ortler, which is a book that's under 150 pages.

Prohibition Bakery by Leslie Feinberg with Brooke Siem, which is a book I can finish in a day.

Situation Momedy: A First-Time Mom's Guide to Laughing Your Way Through Pregnancy & Year One by Jenna Von Oy, which is a book written by a celebrity.

What We Lost in the Dark by Jacquelyn Mitchard, which is a murder mystery.

The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith, which is a book with a blue cover.

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan, which is a book from the library.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis | Book Review

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia, #1)

This was at least my second read-through of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe... I only have a Goodreads record of one other reading, but I'd guess this was actually #3 or #4.  Such a good book!  This time I re-read it concurrently with Advent in Narnia.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the story of four siblings who discover an alternate world accessible through an old wardrobe in an old house.  While there, they discover that they fulfill an ancient prophecy, and they help Aslan the lion defeat the White Witch and save Narnia (the alternate world).

In this short children's book you'll find centaurs and fauns and good magic and bad magic and heroic deeds and a benevolent giant lion.  You'll rediscover wonder and awe from your own childhood.

I highly recommend this book (and the rest of the series) to everyone school-age and up!

*I own my copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

John Dreamer by Elise Celine | Book Review

John Dreamer

Today I'm over at Tynga's Reviews, talking about the good and the bad with John Dreamer.  Click on the cover image above to read more!

*I received an advanced readers copy of John Dreamer from the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.  Thank you!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Advent in Narnia: Reflections for the Season by Heidi Haverkamp | Book Review

Advent in Narnia: Reflections for the Season

Loved it!  Advent in Narnia fit perfectly into my 2015 Advent season.  But then, I had a feeling I'd love it.  I did already know that I love The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  :)

This book is so versatile!  It can definitely stand on it's own, without co-reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  In fact, in the introduction the author says that it is written in such a way that you can even just watch the movie and not read the book at all and still understand the connections.  I think that's accurate.  I also told a sister-in-law that the book felt appropriate for nearly all ages.  Maybe six or seven years and up?  The daily passages are short, and all the material/information is appropriate for all ages.  

Advent in Narnia can be explored on your own (as I did), or as a family, or with a small group.  If you do the reflections as a family, there's an appendix at the end with ideas for how to throw a "Narnia Night" to either kick things off or celebrate the end of Advent.  (You could totally do Narnia Night with your church or small group too.)  If you go through the book with a small group, there's another appendix with a leader guide with good thought-provoking questions.

Everything is included in this book!  I love that.  Every day's reflections starts with a Scripture or two, and they're printed in full in the book.  Then the author lets you know what the corresponding chapter is in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in case you want to read along in that too.  (I did.)  And at the end of the day's reflection, there are some good, thoughtful reflection questions.

Overall, a fantastic book.  I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up!

*I received my copy of Advent in Narnia from the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.  Thank you!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday



Top Ten Tuesday is a fun meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  For more information, or to join the fun yourself, check out their blog!

Top Ten Historical Settings I Love

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1)
1. The setting in Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.  Mid-1800s, if I remember correctly?  If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know my love affair with this series, and how I work it into every Top Ten Tuesday possible!

Velva Jean Learns to Drive (Velva Jean, #1)Velva Jean Learns to FlyBecoming Clementine

2. The setting in Velva Jean Learns to DriveVelva Jean Learns to Fly, and Becoming Clementine by Jennifer Niven.  The series spans the years from the 1930s to the 1940s, and follow Velva Jean as she breaks free from an impoverished mountain community in western NC- first learning to drive, then to fly (becoming a female pilot in WWII!), then to spy (working undercover in Nazi-occupied France).


3. Late colonial/Revolutionary America.  I've read many books set here, as I'm a big fan of the era and of George Washington.

Trans-Siberian Express
4. The setting in Trans-Siberian Express by Warren Adler.  It's set entirely on a train!  The train is traveling across the USSR in the late 1960s/early 1970s.  How many full-length books can there be set entirely on a train?

Under the Wide and Starry Sky
5. The setting in Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan.  This one is set in the very late 1800s all over the world.  Literally!  It's sort of a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson's adult life, told from the point of view of his wife.  I didn't know this- but they lived all over!  In England, Switzerland, California, and Samoa.  Also, I love books about books/authors.

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1)Lair of Dreams (The Diviners, #2)
6. The setting in The Diviners and Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray.  These are set in 1920s New York City, and all the characters are active in the jazz/speakeasy/entertainment scenes.  The author does a great job incorporating all this fun jazz age lingo into the text, which really helps transport you to the time and place.

The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn, #1)
7. The setting in The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh.  No year is ever given, but it's got a historic feel to it.  Historic Arabia, no less!  I think this is the only historic Arabia book I've ever read.

The Nightingale
8. The setting in The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah-early 1940s French countryside.  This was the story of two sisters, and how they survived WWII.  The characters were so strong!  I loved this one.  I also felt like this one was pretty unique- women in WWII in the country.

Al Capone Does My Shirts (Al Capone at Alcatraz, #1)Al Capone Shines My Shoes (Al Capone at Alcatraz, #2)Al Capone Does My Homework (Al Capone at Alcatraz, #3)
9. The setting in Al Capone Does My ShirtsAl Capone Shines My Shoes, and Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko.  These are awesome MG books set on Alcatraz Island in the 1930s.  They're told from the point of view of 12-year-old Moose, who lives on the island with his family because his dad works at the prison.  He shares the island with a few other employee families... and hundreds of convicts.

The Madman’s Daughter (The Madman’s Daughter, #1)Her Dark Curiosity (The Madman's Daughter, #2)A Cold Legacy (The Madman's Daughter, #3)
10. The setting of The Madman's Daughter, Her Dark Curiosity, and A Cold Legacy by Megan Shepherd.  Love this trilogy!  They're set in the early 1900s.  The Madman's Daughter is set on an island in the Pacific (unnamed), and the other two are set in London.  And these books are based on other books!  Yay.  (The Island of Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Frankenstein, respectfully.)

Did I forget any?  What settings do you love?  Leave a link below and I'll be sure to come visit your list too!  I love seeing others' TTTs.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray | Audiobook Review

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

Now, let me tell you that Lair of Dreams is definitely one of the top books I’ve read in 2015, if not the top book! It’s positutely the elephant’s eyebrows! You see, the characters are very young adults in the grandest of ages, the roaring ’20s. They live in New York, New York, and all have careers relating in one way or another to entertainment. There are parties and speakeasies, the most fun and fantastic lingo you’ll read in a book, and absolutely no cares in the world. Hollywood, I’d love for someone to make this series into movies soon, please!

Some of these fun and flashy characters have special powers. They are diviners, able to read the past and the future from personal objects. Or dreamwalkers, able to reach people in their dreams, or the dead from beyond the grave. Some of them have powers not yet realized when you start the book! One thing I love about Libba Bray, though, is that she doesn’t give every single character powers, and there’s no formula to who has them and who doesn’t. Keeps this reader guessing right up to the reveal! I also feel confident telling you that you will love all of the characters. You will find yourself (like me) wishing for a time/fiction machine to go to the jazz age to hang out with them. There’s sweet and flirty Evie, who loves life (and her friends) with an unequaled ferocity. And serious and smart Theta. And southern gentleman Henry. And goofball Sam. And na├»ve but loyal Mabel. And courageous and smart Ling. And more! I know it sounds like a lot, to have so many main characters, but Bray is a masterful storyteller who introduces them one by one (some in The Diviners and some in this book) to avoid confusion. In both books, we meet the characters separately, or in small groups/pairs, then as the story progresses their individual narratives knit together to form the most lovely collective.

The plot also feels “woven together,” from many different strands. Each pair or group of characters is experiencing major events from very different viewpoints, giving the reader a total picture without an omniscient narrator talking over your shoulder. My book’s end flap described this book as “heart stopping,” and I must concur. This is one of those stay-up-way-past-your-bedtime-reading books, because you’ll have to know that your beloved characters made it through another day! Divining is a dangerous job already, with physical side effects (we learned in The Diviners that it’s different for everyone, but usually involves something like a hangover effect), and now there’s a mysterious sleeping sickness sweeping through NYC. The victims appear healthy when they go to bed, but then their loved ones are unable to wake them by any means. It especially affects Ling, who is the daughter of a Chinese man and who lives in Chinatown, where the sickness appears to have originated. Will the dead she encounters in her dreamwalks help her solve the mystery before too many people are claimed? Will she herself be able to remain safe of the sickness? Soon all the local diviners are involved in a dangerous situation that involves the sickness, a ghostly woman, and a mysterious man in a stovepipe hat. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s definitely a page-turner! It also feels a bit “dark,” if that makes sense. Despite all the fun ’20s lingo, these characters feel like they’re in very real danger, and much of the book takes place at night, and sometimes in unsavory parts of town. Just one of the best marriages of suspense and mysticism and fright that I’ve read since Stephen King.

I’ll close with an enthusiastic Hallelujah Chorus in praise of the audiobook. A young lady named January does the reading and she’s the bee’s knees! Absotutely the best! No, the lingo doesn’t do her justice… she, like the author, is a master at her craft. She manages to get a 600+ page book onto only 19 CDs without ever feeling rushed. She does distinct voices for 12+ characters, including males. (My personal fave is New Orleans-raised Henry!) And she sings! With multiple characters in show biz, there are some snatches of tunes sprinkled throughout the book and January sings them and sings them well! Really adds to the ambience. I think this is an occasion where I’d actually recommend the audiobook over the physical book!

Five of five incredibly enthusiastic stars to Lair of Dreams! And here’s to hoping the third book isn’t too long of a wait!

*I checked out my copy of Lair of Dreams from my local library.