Friday, August 31, 2012

‘Mother of Pearl: Luminous Lessons and Iridescent Faith’ – compiled by Margaret McSweeney – Book Review

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One of my favorite places to visit when I am online is Margaret McSweeney’s Pearl Girls website. There is always something that inspires and encourages! So I was excited to join the blog tour for her latest compilation, ‘Mother of Pearl: Luminous Lessons and Iridescent Faith.’

Here is the synopsis of this inspiring book:

Like oysters, women often encounter unexpected grit during their everyday lives. In response, God’s love and grace covers this grit and transforms the pain into a precious pearl that leaves a layered, luminous lining within a shell: Mother of Pearl. This brilliant luster is strong, lasting, and purposeful – just like the love, lessons, and legacies left by the special women in our lives.
Mother of Pearl celebrates the collective iridescence of motherhood. Margaret McSweeney presents a collection of heartfelt vignettes from authors who communicate the importance of the unique relationships between mother and her children, between granddaughters and grandmothers and between children and the mother figures in their lives.
These stories tell of the power of faith, prayer, and values, exploring coming of age, the joy of becoming a mother, the importance of motherhood, the ways to heal from a bad relationship with a mother and weathering the death of a special loved one. Poignant and thought-provoking, the stories serve to inspire, encourage, instill hope, and strengthen faith.
The proceeds from the sale of Mother of Pearl will be donated to organizations helping struggling women and children. The charities include Wings (Women in Need Growing Stronger) to help fund the Safe House in the Chicago suburbs and to Hands of Hope to help build wells for schoolchildren in Zambia.

Here is the biography of this book’s editor:

Margaret McSweeney, a wife and mother, serves on the Leadership Advisory Board for Wings (Women in Need Growing Stronger). She is the author of A Mother’s Heart Knows and Aftermath: Finding Grace Through Grief and coauthor of Go Back and Be Happy; she also compiled the collection of essays Pearl Girls . Visit McSweeney online at

In ‘A Note from Margaret about Pearl Girls,’ Mrs. McSweeney explains the purpose of this book and her group:

This book is a compilation and celebration of women who were and are a mother of pearl. May the lustrous stories written by some of the your favorite authors bless you, strengthen you and remind you always of God’s iridescent grace.
The purpose of Pearl Girls is two-fold: 1) Connecting with each other online and in-person; and 2) Collaborating on projects for charity. Linked together as a community of women who share a love for God, the Pearl Girls reach out to help other women and children who are having a difficult time.

Two of my favorite Christian authors – Suzanne Woods Fisher and Tricia Goyer – contributed to this compilation. Suzanne’s entry is entitled ‘What is a 
Grandmother?’ It features her characteristic good humor. Here she is reflecting on the birth of her grandson, Blake:

I felt surprised, too. How could my baby possibly have had a baby? How could I be a grandmother? I had just turned fifty-one. Shockingly young! How could a kid like me give up playing tennis three times a week to settle into knitting and crocheting and Friday night bingo? And shouldn’t I alter my appearance to fit this new label? Give up my jeans? Switch over to below knee-length calico dresses, thick black socks, practical shoes, gray hair pinned in a topknot. Think…Aunt Bee on Mayberry R.F.D. (pp. 89-90)

Very cute! Grandmas don’t look like that anymore, do they?!

Tricia wrote about ‘Adoption: A Mother’s Greatest Gift:’

The sacrifice of adoption makes my heart ache, for I know on this Mother’s Day another woman will be thinking about my daughter – her daughter. As I rejoice, I’ll be crying tears for her. I’ll also be sending up prayers that God will wrap His arms around her in a special way.
This Mother’s Day, I cannot help but think about Christ’s sacrifice to make our adoption into God’s family possible. Maybe it’s because just a few weeks ago we were celebrating Easter, but I’m reminded anew that my gain required His loss, His pain. The greatest love, it seems, is not shown with flowers, chocolate or a diamond bracelet. The greatest love is shown when, because of your love for another, your desires and comforts are laid down for the greater good of someone else. (p. 92)

A mother/author with whom I was not familiar is Dawn Meehan. The title of her piece, ‘Having Patience with Pink-Dog Days’ caught my attention! She writes with fun and grace!:

With six kids, we’ve certainly had our share of adventures and mishaps. Sometimes it seems as if I’ve failed this whole parenting thing. I continuously teach them right from wrong and try to instill a good set of morals. I attempt to get them to thing before acting, and to make wise decisions. And yet, they continue to do things like paint the dog pink, shove candy up their noses, and jump off the garage roof. Sometimes I want to throw my hands up in the air and shout, “I give up!”
And then I think of our father, our heavenly father. How many times has He told us not to do something, only to watch us turn around and do it anyway? How many times has He instructed us on how we’re to behave, only to have us do the opposite of what He says? How many times has he forgiven us, only to have us immediately make the same mistake again? If I were God, I’d want to throw my hands up in the air and shout, “I give up!”
But thankfully, He doesn’t. He forgives endlessly. He teaches always. He’s there for us when we mess up time and time again. It somehow makes it a little easier to forgive, and it reminds me not to give up on this parenting thing. Although I’m pretty sure they’ll never learn how to replace the empty toilet paper roll. I’ve definitely given up there. (pp. 130-131)  

Margaret closes out her book appropriately, giving thanks to her Lord:

And thank you, Lord for your constant grace, love and patience. May this book be a blessing to others and may the stories strengthen and encourage their faith and draw them closer to You. Please be especially close to the women and children who are seeking safe shelter through Wings and clean water through Hands of Hope. Amen! (p. 155)

I really love this book! I was not familiar with the majority of the ladies who contributed to this compilation. It was nice to be introduced to these wonderful women of God! I love books which give me the opportunity to read a few of the entries before bedtime or when I have a spare few minutes. I thank Margaret for putting this amazing book together for her readers – with proceeds going to good causes!

This book was published by Inspiring Voices, a service of Guideposts, and provided by LitFuse Publicity Group for review purposes.

Monday, August 27, 2012

‘The Haven’ by Suzanne Woods Fisher – Book Review

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Anyone who has been reading my book reviews for any length of time knows that I have had a fascination with the Amish community since I was a young girl. Therefore, one of my favorite authors is Suzanne Woods Fisher, who specializes in writing about the Amish. I love her for her writing, but I also love her for the person that she is in the virtual world! I have never met her, but I hope to do so one day! Then my suspicions about her being a beautiful person will be confirmed!

‘The Haven’ is book 2 in her ‘Stoney Ridge Seasons’ series.

Here is the synopsis of this novel:

          Spring brings new life, young love. And second chances            to Stoney Ridge.
On a warm spring day, Sadie Lapp returns home to her quiet, unassertive life in Stoney Ridge after spending the winter in Ohio.
Gideon Smucker, an awkward schoolteacher has been in love with Sadie since childhood and eagerly awaits her return. But does Sadie feel the same about him?
Will Stolz, a charming and impetuous college student, has been banished for a semester and sent to babysit endangered peregrine falcons nesting at the Lapp farm. He’d rather be anywhere else…unless he befriends Sadie.
As the hopes and ambitions of these three young people converge, life in Stoney Ridge may never be the same.
Once again, bestselling author Suzanne Woods Fisher intrigues and delights with a story that explores the bonds of friendship, family, and true love in this captivating series.

Here is the biography of this wonderful author (who is also a beautiful lady!):

Suzanne Woods Fisher is the bestselling author of The Choice, The Waiting, The Search, The Keeper, A Lancaster County Christmas. The Lesson is coming out on January 2, 2013. Suzanne has also written nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace and  Amish Values for Your Family. She is also the coauthor of a new Amish children’s series, The Adventures of Lily Lapp; the first one is Life with Lily (The Adventures of Lily Lapp). Suzanne is the host of internet radio show Amish Wisdom and a columnist for Christian Post and Cooking & Such. She lives in California.

All of my favorite elements of a Suzanne Woods Fisher novel – amazing character descriptions, the wonder of God’s creation, etc… - are all here in ‘The Haven.’ Here is an example from her pen/computer:

He [Gideon] overhead someone describe him once as a young man without deep feelings. He did feel deeply, he knew he did. But what he felt was so confusing and required so much work to figure out, and then even more to get it to the surface and express it, that it was easier to keep quiet and concentrate on writing, something he could see. He imagined all kinds of sweet things he wanted to tell her [Sadie]; how there were times in church when a beam from the sun caught her hair and glinted and he thought she looked like an angel. How much he loved those pronounced dimples in her cheeks. And those freckles that covered her nose and cheeks. He knew she hated them and tried to get rid of them with lemon juice, but he wished she wouldn’t because he liked them. And her laugh… it was like the sound of wind chimes. He sorely missed Sadie, as much today as when she left four months ago. (pp. 20-21)

I loved the description of the first meeting between Sadie and Will:

Standing this close to the intern, Sadie saw that he had blue eyes. Really blue eyes, framed by thick brown lashes and strong straight brows darker than his hair, blonde hair that swept into his eyes. He was sunburnt and needed a shave, but he was quite nice looking, sort of rugged. He was wearing jeans, dirty at the knees, and a plain white T-shirt under his short-sleeved khaki shirt. He tipped his cowboy hat to them, smiled, and went on his way. He had the kind of smile that could have melted a glacier. (p. 42)

This passage gives us an insightful view into the psyche of Sadie, when she describes Gideon and imagines how a life together with him would look like:

….It wasn’t right to compare Will to Gideon. Comparing a Plain man to an Amish man was like comparing apples to oranges, deserts to oceans, elephants to lions. But everything felt so serious with Gid. So awkward. But then, she was awkward too. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe they were too much alike. In her mind flashed a vision: she and Gid at a table, surrounded by awkward children. An entire awkward family. She shook her head to clear it of that image. Since when had she ever given serious thought to marrying Gideon Smucker? No! Never! But maybe someday. (p. 166)   

One of the neat elements of Sadie’s character is her ability to heal using natural remedies. I am a big advocate of God’s treatments versus men’s. I picked up a lot of good tips along the way; here’s one:

As the baby slept, Sadie went into the kitchen to blend some herbs into a remedy that could be brewed as a kind of tea. It was a mixture to break up colds that Deborah had taught her to make: ground ginger and cayenne pepper. A pinch of that, added to a mug of hot water, apple cider vinegar, and honey, sipped throughout the day, could shorten a cold’s duration. Sadie sneezed twice as she stirred the mixture. Just sniffing it, she thought, could clear the sinuses. An added benefit to the remedy! (p. 170)

I definitely plan on trying that the next time a cold comes on!

God is always at the forefront in Suzanne’s novels. There are several examples of how God’s ways are the best ways (i.e., forgiveness, Romans 8:28, etc…). Here is Sadie sharing the truth of God’s healing powers with Will:

Only God is the true healer. That was the phrase Sadie often said, especially when people came to her for remedies, which they were doing more and more. Hardly a day went by when someone wasn’t seeking her out for help. Will worried they were taking advantage of her because she didn’t charge them, but she said it brought her pleasure to help others. And then she would always say, “After all, only God is the true healer.” (p. 217)

As always, I was charmed and enchanted by this Suzanne Woods Fisher novel! Every one of her characters is so engaging. She does a wonderful job of fleshing out the characters and making them real in her readers’ minds. I would love to meet all of them – if they only were real, and not a figment of Suzanne’s wonderful imagination! I greatly look forward to what happens to Sadie, Gideon, Will and Mary Kate, among others, in book three of the series! ‘The Lesson,’ which focuses on Mary Kate Lapp, is coming out on January 2, 2013. Hurry, January!!

This book was published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. I am happy to be participating in the blog tour from the LitFuse Publicity Group.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

‘Food Family Style: Simple & Tasty Recipes for Everyday Life’ by Leigh Oliver Vickery – Book Review

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A good cookbook is a valuable addition to any home’s kitchen! When I learned about a blog tour for a book called ‘Food Family Style: Simple & Tasty Recipes forEveryday Life,’ I was intrigued! Any cookbook that has the word ‘Simple’ in the title works for me!

Here is the synopsis of this zesty book:

365 Simple & Tasty Recipes to Satisfy The Entire Family.
Your family is busy. But you still have to eat! Reclaim the family dinner in our household with these mouthwatering recipes, sure to draw your family into the kitchen and around the table day after day. From tasty breakfasts, soups, and salads to easy main dishes and desserts, Food Family Style delivers delicious recipes such as:

·         Easiest Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps
·         No-Rise Cinnamon Rolls
·         Breakfast Pizza
·         Grilled Apple Cheddar Sandwich
·         Bistro Tomato Basil Soup
·         Pesto Pasta Salad
·         Slow Cooker Jambalaya
·         Mexican Lasagna
·         Molasses Barbecue Beans
·         Southern Pecan Pie
·         Toffee Ice Cream Squares
·         Easy S’More Bars

Throughout Food Family Style, you will find symbols indicating recipes that double easily, freeze well, are gluten free or vegetarian, can be made in a slow cooker, or are favorites contributed by moms around the country. And since there’s more to mealtime than just the food, this innovative book also includes tips about how to involve your kids in meal preparation, meaningful conversation starters, and simple ideas to bring warmth to your home.

Here is the biography of the author:

Leigh Oliver Vickery is creator and founder of Leigh Oliver’s, a specialty “fun food” company with numerous products on the market in at least twenty-five states and grocery chains, including Whole Foods Market and Costco. She is the former food editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph in Tyler, Texas.

In the Introduction, Leigh tells her readers what they do in her family’s home:

In our home, we try to sit down together to eat at least four nights a week. Yes, it takes work to get everyone’s schedule to somehow align and to get food on the table. And yes, many nights it doesn’t work out as well as I imagined.
But we try, and I have seen that the more often we make time to eat together, the better our family relationships become. We have learned how to work together (when the boys are hungry enough, they don’t mind helping!), we have learned better table manners, and we have learned so much about our boys’ thoughts and ideas we may never have known. (p. 11)

I prepared the ‘MOPS Mom: Slow Cooker Pulled Pork’ recipe the other day. It was delicious! Here is the introduction to the recipe:

Heidi Johnson grew up in Texas helping her mom in the kitchen. But it wasn’t until she left home that she learned how to really cook on her own. “I learned to cook from my mom, a cookbook called The Joy of Cooking, and the internet,” Heidi said. “My husband, Clay, loves that I like to cook.”
Heidi and Clay have a young son, and their second baby is on the way. This favorite recipe is something she created by combining several other recipes into one. “The sauce is my dad’s, the spice and mustard rub is from Cook’s Illustrated, and the rest came from some slow cooker barbecue recipes on the internet.” (p. 166)

Here are the ingredients from this recipe:

·         1 (5-7 lb) pork butt
·         ¼ cup      prepared yellow mustard
·         2 tsp.      liquid smoke
·         2 Tbs.     ground black pepper
·         2 Tbs.     smoked (or regular) paprika
·         2 Tbs.     sugar
·         2 tsp.      salt
·         1 tsp.     cayenne pepper
·         1 cup     beef broth
·         2 cups   Barbecue Sauce
(p. 166)    

I plan on trying many more of the recipes in this book! It is always exciting to have more meal options. It is really easy to get into a repetitious meal rut! I look forward to sitting down with my husband, Fred, to decide what to try next!

This book is available August 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

‘The Stars Shine Bright: A Raleigh Harmon Novel’ by Sibella Giorello – Book Review

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In my years of book reviews, one of the authors whose work has been consistently enthralling and entertaining is Sibella Giorello. And who doesn’t love her name! When I found out there was a blog tour for her latest Raleigh Harmon novel, I knew wanted consideration to be included on the tour bus.

Here is the synopsis of ‘The Stars Shine Bright’: 

After the FBI suspends her for bending its rules, Special Agent Raleigh Harmon is looking for a chance to redeem her career and re-start her life. Sent undercover to a thoroughbred horse track, Raleigh takes on a double life to find out who’s fixing the races. But when horses start dying and then her own life is threatened, Raleigh realizes something bigger – and more sinister – is ruining Emerald Meadows.
She’s never felt more alone.
Her one contact with the FBI is Special Agent Jack Stephanson, a guy who seems to jump from antagonistic to genuine friend depending on the time of day. And she can’t turn to her family for support. They’re off-limits while she’s undercover, and her mother isn’t speaking to her anyway, having been confined to a mental hospital following a psychotic breakdown. Adding insult to her isolation, Raleigh’s fiancé wants them to begin their life together – now – precisely when she’s been ordered not to be herself.
With just days left before the season ends, Raleigh races to stop the killing and find out who’s behind the track’s trouble, all the while trying to determine if Jack is friend or foe, and whether marrying her fiancé will make things better – or worse.
Raleigh is walking through the darkest night she’s faced, searching for a place where the stars shine bright.

Here is the author’s biography:

Sibella Giorello grew up in the mountains of Alaska admiring the beauty and nature that surrounded her. She majored in geology at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts hoping to learn more about the landscape she loved back home. From there Sibella followed a winding path, much like the motorcycle ride she took across the country, which led to her true love, journalism. 

She found herself in Seattle writing for rock-n-roll magazine and earned a journalism degree from the University of Washington before heading south to the land of great stories.

In Virginia, Sibella became a features writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. It was there she also met her husband and would hear Jesus whispering her name at a tent revival.

Sibella started writing about Raleigh Harmon as a way to keep her love of story-telling alive while staying at home with her young sons. As a journalist and author, her stories have won state and national awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. The Stones Cry Out
the first Raleigh Harmon novel, won a Christy Award for debut novel in 2008. Sibella now lives in Washington state with her husband and sons.

I love Sibella’s writing style! Here are a few examples:

During my five years in the FBI’s mineralogy lab, I learned that two of the worst bedfellows were justice and politics. While justice focused on the truth, politics manipulated the truth for its own gain. Throw in the media, which only reported the truth that fit their preconceived ideas, and it was little wonder that the fallen world was speeding toward hell in a handbasket. (p. 89)

All my life, I’d managed to muscle through trouble, always fighting. And winning. But lately I was realizing that my problems were getting bigger and my self-sufficiency smaller. I needed help. Real help. And standing among the snorting animals, when I closed my eyes to pray, my mind felt fuzzy from last night’s crying jag. From this morning’s blitzkrieg by an arson inspector and Hurricane Yuck. There was nobody to talk to about it, except an invisible element that was more real than what I could see or touch. It was the one who rescued me, who redeemed me, who saw each loose end, every question – all my worries – and knew every answer. I would never be able to explain it in rational terms, but when I was at my worst, that was when I saw Jesus. The greatest inverse relationship in the universe: when I was weak, He was strong. (p. 121)

The only thing that did not ‘grab me’ about this novel is the portions of the story set in the world of horse racing. For some reason, it did not resonate with me. Despite that, it is clear from all of the details included that Sibella either had done a lot of research on the topic, or has had some involvement in the thoroughbred world. I did learn a lot about that aspect of life in this world.

As usual for a Giorello novel, I enjoyed ‘The Stars Shine Bright.’ Sibella is truly a gifted author.  And with the dangling conclusion to this book, I can tell that there will be another Raleigh Harmon Novel from the creative brain of Mrs. Giorello!

This book was published by Thomas Nelson Publishers and provided by the Litfuse Publicity Group for review purposes. 

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