Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book Review: The Comforts of Home

I am so happy to be hosting a blog tour for Jodi Thomas's new book in the Harmony series: The Comforts of Home. Here's a short bit from Jodi about the book (my review will follow):
I’m very happy to announce the birth of my new book.  It’s been a long labor of love, but I know you’re going to enjoy the next Harmony book, THE COMFORTS OF HOME.  I want readers to feel like they are walking the streets of a small town.  You’ll laugh at some of the people, worry about others and fall in love with a few as they find their way through life.
In THE COMFORTS OF HOME  I wrote about people who probably live all around us but we never take the time to know.  One was Ronelle Logan.  She’d lived and worked at the post office without anyone noticing her.  She solved the funeral home’s crossword puzzles before she handed over the magazines, but no one complained.  Tyler Wright, the funeral director, just brought her a huge crossword puzzle book.  He was a kind man who tried to help everyone he came across.  In the lives of these people now and then, wonder happens, brightening the world around.
THE COMFORTS OF HOME is about the people in a small town who come together to celebrate life.  They care about one another.  Many nights when I sat down in my study to write I felt as if I was stepping into a world, a place that was as real to me as my life.  I never think of my people as characters in a story, but always as people.   They walk though my life and make it a richer place and I hope they’ll do the same for you as you read THE COMFORTS OF HOME. 

About Jodi:
Jodi Thomas is the NY Times and USA Today best-selling author of 34 novels and 11 short story
collections. In June 2011, WELCOME TO HARMONY won a RITA, the highest award for contemporary fiction. Jodi currently serves as the Writer in Residence at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas. You can check out her other books at www.jodithomas.com 

Publishers Weekly Review:
In her third Harmony novel, Thomas takes readers back to that Texas town where a number of romances come to a head after a tornado strikes. Funeral director Tyler Wright struggles to profess his love to Maj. Kate Cummings. Aspiring rodeo star Noah MacAllen keeps returning to Harmony and his best friend (and beloved) Reagan Truman. Reagan, whose “uncle” Jeremiah (he’s her foster father) is dying, wrestles with her feelings for Noah and local firefighter Brandon Biggs. Meanwhile, shy Ronelle Logan meets angry, lonely Martin Winslow, who helps her emerge from her shell. Despite their passion, Claire Matheson has trouble committing to Denver Sims. The tornado leaves each character wondering if loved ones have survived, and this uncertainty forces them to action. Even for readers new to the series, the intricate relationships between these affable men and eccentric women are easy to follow and even easier to love. Thomas skillfully juggles the many subplots, and the relationship between Ronelle and Marty, which inspires both to trust again, is especially touching. 

My Review:
This is my fourth book to read and review for Ms. Thomas. I'm hooked on her storytelling. The Harmony series is so real. Maybe it's because I'm from a small Texas town and I can see a lot of the people I know and (sometimes) love in the characters. It was really a great book and I love that new characters are explored while not forgetting the characters from the first two books. 

Beyond all the romance-y parts, my absolute favorite character in the books has been SaraLynn. I love the interaction between her and Tyler. I actually found myself saying, at one point in the book, "what a sweet girl she is" and then had to laugh because I had made her into a real person in my mind!

Reading these books is like sitting around catching up with old friends. I actually find myself thinking about the characters and what I hope happens to them. When Autumn was introduced, I started wondering where the character was going to go. (Jodi does far better by the characters than I do in my head!)

I'm glad that Tyler got a main story line in this book. He's a great character in the first two and he deserved a "leading role". He's one of those people in your community that goes without being noticed for a long time, yet is so integral to the workings of the town that he would be sorely missed.

I can't wait for the next book. Jodi leaves you wanting more, yet not frustrated at everything not being tied up with a little bow.

You can pre-order the book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or at Jodi's Site. While you're there pick up some of her other books. You will not be disappointed in any way by the stories. The fourth book in the series, Just Down the Road, will be released in April 2012.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Review: Three Cups

Three Cups
By Tony Townsley
Tommy Nelson, 2011
English, 32 pages


Teaching children how to save, spend, and be charitable can be as simple as 1, 2, 3.

All parents want to teach their children good money habits from an early age. Many start by giving them an allowance. But it's equally important to teach children a positive, generous attitude as they learn to use money responsibly.

Filled with warm, memorable illustrations by award-winning painter, April Willy, Three Cups is the story of one family's unique and effective method of teaching personal financial management-and how one boy reaped first the small, then the immeasurably great rewards of the lessons he learned.

Families will be delighted with the heart-warming tale and want to integrate the three-cup system in their own children's lives.

Our big boy just turned 5 and we've been trying to decide if he's old enough now for an allowance and how to handle teaching him about tithing and saving. I'd considered getting a separated style piggy bank, but I don't want to have to give him coins for his allowance. I'd considered envelopes, but they would likely get misplaced in his room.

I like the story and lesson in Three Cups. It's about a little boy who is given 3 cups for his birthday and is taught how to use the cups for giving, saving and spending. The art work is superb and I really like that there is a Getting Started Guide in the back of the book.

I fully intend to use this method with our sons. It's a visual reminder that may help teach a lesson that is truly important to learn at this age.

I received a copy of the book for the purpose of a review. No additional compensation has been received and I was not required to write a positive review.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Book Review: The Doctor's Lady

The Doctor's Lady
By Jody Hedlund
Bethany House, 2011
English, 378 pages

Priscilla White knows she'll never be a wife or mother and feels God's call to the mission field in India. Dr. Eli Ernest is back from Oregon Country only long enough to raise awareness of missions to the natives before heading out West once more. But then Priscilla and Eli both receive news from the mission board: No longer will they send unmarried men and women into the field.

Left scrambling for options, the two realize the other might be the answer to their needs. Priscilla and Eli agree to a partnership, a marriage in name only that will allow them to follow God's leading into the mission field. But as they journey west, this decision will be tested by the hardships of the trip and by the unexpected turnings of their hearts.

This is the first historical Christian fiction book I've wanted to finish in a long time. To be perfectly honest, nothing in it was a shock. The plot isn't hard to figure out. There are no surprises in the story line. But it's still an engaging read. The fact that it's based on a true story makes it that much better. (I didn't realize that before I started reading...)

There are funny parts, "hold-your-breath" parts and pitter-pattery heart parts. I particularly liked the self-discovery aspect of the characters. They all learn something about themselves and that's pretty cool in a story.

I'm passing it on to my fiction friends and I'm sure they'll all love it too.

I received a copy of the book in exchange for a review. No additional compensation has been received and I was not required to write a positive review.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Review: Heroes and Villains of the Bible

Heroes and Villains of the Bible
By Thomas Nelson
Tommy Nelson, 2011
English, 256 pgs


50 true-life adventures of real people from the Bible-stories of good versus evil, right versus wrong, and heroes versus villains-and their life-shaping lessons that point children to God-the greatest hero of all!

The Bible is packed with stories of courageous people who loved and served God, and how He used them to do great things in the world. It is also filled with villainous people who disobeyed God and did horrible things. Heroes and Villains of the Bible encourages its readers to aspire to become great, courageous, and heroic servants of God, and reject all that is evil in the world.

With Heroes and Villains of the Bible, children will realize some of their favorite heroes aren't from the movies, but are real people from the Bible.

I was expecting this to be more than just Scriptures. I was expecting a story style book about the famous heroes and villains in the Bible. There were maybe two paragraphs on each story with a paraphrase of the story. The art is actually pretty though. The pictures are computer generated and have a style similar to Avatar in realness.

The language is simple enough to read as it's geared toward the 9-12 year old demographic. I just couldn't find anything different about the book.

It contains 50 stories, both Old and New Testament and each story is marked to tell the reader it's a hero with a lion or villain with a snake. It was a pretty good selection of characters too. I appreciate that women were included (whether hero or villain).

If I were the publisher though I'd rethink the cover. It looks like a book for boys and it really is for both genders.

I received a copy of the book for review. No additional compensation has been received and I was not required to write a positive review.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Site Review: Shirley's Prepackaged Crafts

We are now in our 4th month of homeschooling the 5 year old. We made this decision because his birthday falls after the state cut-off for starting school in September and he would have had to go into Pre-K. The kid is reading at probably a 1st grade level and can do math with digits 0-10. He can name every continent, ocean and most countries. (Thank you LeapFrog Explorer!) We couldn't in good conscience let him be in Pre-K. Mainly because he'd be bored and that just invites discipline problems.

So about early July or so I purchased homeschool material on the Kindergarten level and off we went. Most days go pretty smoothly. Most. Certainly not all!

I had bought the basic subjects: Math, English, Handwriting (like pulling teeth people...), Science and Geography (he LOVES it!). I also wanted to get him into "elective" things like Character, Health, Music and Art. My great plan on Art was to get him doing craft projects and making cute things to hang on the fridge. It ended up not so great. I couldn't find what I wanted  (I'm not crafty and needed help in book form) so I just bought the Kumon First Book of Cutting. He runs from the scissors now because he is so bored with it.

So, on to Plan B...I had to find something to get him interested in learning to cut and paste and make things we can send to the grandparents. I started seeking information in magazines. I found one that had either an article or an ad for Shirley's Prepackaged Crafts. (I read so many I can't remember!) I checked it out and that was exactly what I was looking for! Nothing too hard, but full instructions and supplies in one kit!

We received the October box and my son wanted to sit down and do it all immediately. I limited him to one every other day, just so he wouldn't run out!

Each month's box has 12 crafts and they are tied by theme. For instance, the themes coming in November are blue, the number 3, rectangles and Thanksgiving. December is going to be green, the number 4, stars and Christmas. I love that she does this in the boxes.

There is also a certificate of completion for each month. I know my son loves getting rewards and will be thrilled when we get to this one!

Each box comes with everything you need for the 12 craft pages. The only things you add are scissors, glue, tape, colors and time.

The first craft we did was a simple cut and paste activity. My son didn't mind cutting on the lines when he realized he was making a puzzle that would become a fire truck!
Next we did a pumpkin page and then a Columbus Day craft. He really enjoyed all of it. I did have to help him with some of the cutting though since he's still not great with curves. He noticed the trapezoid shaped pumpkin all on his own!

He was so proud to show them to his daddy when he got home. He's even memorized the "In 1492..." rhyme from the Columbus Day activity. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow when we use trapezoids to make a dump truck! 

The boxes retail for $18 per month and there are discounts for buying multiple months in a package. I just ordered the Nov-Jan boxes and saved about $2.50 by purchasing three months at a time. You can also purchase all the rest of the school year and will get about $1 off per month. If I had ordered that now, I would have saved $7 and that's almost half a month! 

I don't consider this a huge investment mainly because I don't have to spend my time thinking of things that we can do. Shirley does that for me. All I have to do is portion them out during the week. And he loves them. That makes it worth every penny.

If you're a homeschooling mom you have to look into this easy time saver. Shirley is also offering a discount code for my readers. Use the code faithful to save $2 off your first order. She also offers a discount if you're ordering more than one box per month.

All orders for the following month have to be in by the 15th. She's pretty smart to keep overhead down by only printing and compiling the boxes that are ordered. She ships them in time to get to you before the start of the month.

I received the October box in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the free product. No additional compensation has been received.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review: Night of the Living Dead Christian

Night of the Living Dead Christian
By Matt Mikalatos
Saltriver, 2011
English, 288 pages

What does a transformed life actually look like?
In his follow-up to the critically acclaimed Imaginary Jesus, Matt Mikalatos tackles this question in an entertaining and thought-provoking way—with MONSTERS!!! While Christians claim to experience Christ’s resurrection power, we sometimes act like werewolves who can’t control our base desires. Or zombies, experiencing a resurrection that is 90 percent shambling death and 10 percent life. Or vampires, satiating ourselves at the expense of others. But through it all we long to stop being monsters and become truly human—the way Christ intended. We just can’t seem to figure out how.

Night of the Living Dead Christian is the story of Luther, a werewolf on the run, whose inner beast has driven him dangerously close to losing everything that matters. Desperate to conquer his dark side, Luther joins forces with Matt to find someone who can help. Yet their time is running out. A powerful and mysterious man is on their trail, determined to kill the wolf at all costs . . .

By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Night of the Living Dead Christian is a spiritual allegory that boldly explores the monstrous underpinnings of our nature and tackles head-on the question of how we can ever hope to become truly transformed.

It has been a long time since I enjoyed a book this much. The story is laugh out loud funny in some places (zombies breaking into spontaneous song!) and just a punch in the gut in others (see the descriptions of monsters above).

Matt seems to have a wickedly sharp sense of humor and it has kept me glued to this book.

I have to be careful though, I've started seeing other people and church members in his descriptions! Oh look, zombies...careful of that vampire...

I really can't say how the story ends (I never tell plots in my reviews) but I can tell you that you are going to be thoroughly entertained for every single page. It's hard to put down and even harder to not laugh out loud (awkward at times...). You will not regret the time you spend reading this.

There is a readers discussion guide and a guide to monsters in the back. I'm wondering how this would go over for a October Bible study...lots of fun I'm sure.

I received a copy of the book for the purpose of a review. No additional compensation has been received and I was not required to write a positive review.