Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"When God Made You" by Matthew Paul Turner, illustrated by David Catrow

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When God Made You is a beautifully illustrated children's book with the message that children are unique and exactly how they were meant to be.

Each page has one or two couplets expressing that God knows you and made you purposefully just the way you are. Later in the book some spreads of pages only have one line that rhymes with the line on the next spread of pages. Though the text is spread out, there is still quite a bit; there is definitely enough examples/evidence that God makes each child unique.

The illustrations are bright and whimsical. My favorite part is the scruffy puppy that appears on each spread of pages. The adorable puppy definitely would have been my favorite part as a child.

Its an encouraging and inclusive message that also inspires creativity: "use your talents and passions, / those gifts that God fashioned. / Think up ideas and then / put them to action." It gives up examples of art, story-making, and dancing.

I received a free copy of the book from Blogging for Books, but was not required to write a positive review.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Review: "Life After" by Katie Ganshert

Image result for life after katie ganshertIn the Christian fiction romance novel Life After, a bombing of a Chicago train ends the life of 22 people, but inexplicably leaves one alive. Autumn Manning still struggles with the questions of why a year later. Her obsessive need for the people who died to be remembered leads her to revisit their graves, track newspaper articles, and search for photos of their lives. In the unlikely new friend, the young daughter of one of the victims, Autumn finds new purpose: creating a video memorial. In befriending the daughter, Autumn comes to know Paul, her father, and a complicated romance forms between the survivor and the widower.

Life After is a story of finding a way to move on past tragedy with faith as a guiding principle. Author Katie Ganshert does a nice job of weaving God into the heart of the story, but keeping it very natural and unforced.

As a former Chicago resident, I enjoyed hearing about the places that I was familiar with; of course, the premise of the book with the bombing also made it a little difficult at first because I took the train every day to work. It's a scary premise, but it was addressed respectfully in a way that explained the bomber's mental illness and it focuses not on tragedy, but on the hope of the future and healing through God.

The plot was captivating and the characters were well-rounded and a pleasure to get to know through the book. I appreciated the fast pace and various threads of plot that all moved together seamlessly.

I received a free copy of this book, but was not required to post a positive review.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Review: "In the Shadow of Denali" by Tracie Peterson & Kimberley Woodhouse

Image result for In the Shadow of Denali (The Heart of Alaska)
In the Shadow of Denali is a pretty straightforward christian love story. The main story line involves a young woman, Cassidy, who is suddenly attracting two men at the hotel where she works. However, the main love interest, Allan, has come to Alaska to learn more about his father's death, which could have been the cause of some mystery and suspense, but is not presented that way. Cassidy's father ends up being a christian mentor to both Allan, and the smitten-with-Cassidy young kitchen hand, Thomas.

The relationship between Cassidy and her father is quite endearing. He shares a lot of wisdom with her and it is obvious throughout the book that she has taken his lessons to heart.

There's also an interesting story to the head cook with whom Cassidy works, Mrs. Johnson. She seems more genuine than the other characters and willingly shares her struggles with Cassidy. The parts where Cassidy and Mrs. Johnson talk about God and faith are more engaging than other moments where the interactions between characters seem forced.

As a work of historical fiction, the book performs admirably. I learned a lot about Denali from reading it. It includes some interesting passages where the President visits the mountain. There's a few pages at the end of the book that explain all of the historical context and what necessitated fictionalization. It was an interesting insight both into the available information (gaps included) and the writer's process.

However, overall the book fell flat for me with repetitive monologues from characters pining over one another, assuming that feelings were unrequited. If you're looking for a quick read that ties up all story lines in a nice little bow, has a tiny bit of suspense, and characters who fall in love with the idea of one another, you may enjoy this book more than I did. There were many places this book could have been more mysterious but chose to give everything away and spell things out for the reader. It ends in a tired way, leaving nothing for the reader to think or wonder about.

I received a free copy of this book, but was not required to write a positive review.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Review: "A Proper Drink" by Robert Simonson

Image result for a proper drink simonsonA Proper Drink tells the story of "the contemporary craft cocktail revival" in more than 300 dense pages. The story weaves through 36 chapters, many of which feature at least one cocktail recipe. The recipes go beyond the ingredients to include background information such as the year, place, and person involved in the creation.

The book also includes an extensive index, which I think is very useful. I think many readers may be more inclined to seek out a chapter on their favorites, rather than reading cover to cover.

Personally, I enjoyed reading about the Aviary in Chicago and the Trident cocktail. One of my friends told me of her visit to the Aviary and the incredible cocktails she saw served there. I never tried it myself, but still hope to someday. The Trident cocktail contains aquavit, which is an alcohol of particular interest for me and my husband after we learned about linet aquavit, the liquor that travels around the world before being sold.

However, I found much of the book dry and unengaging. I guess the expected audience (bartenders?) would be much more enthusiastic about the history and people. I was hoping for lighter snippets of stories combined with recipes. As is, the cocktails are on the complicated side as far as ingredients and require a well-stocked bar.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books, but was not required to write a positive review.

Monday, November 14, 2016

"From This Day Forward" by Lauraine Snelling

From This Day Forward by Lauraine Snelling is the fourth book in the Song of Blessing series. I hadn't read any of the other books in the series, but that did not cause me any trouble. If you're familiar with the series though, you may already know some of the side characters.

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In this story, Deborah MacCallister is a lovesick nurse who can't get any attention from Toby, the man she spend the whole book (and most of her life since childhood) pining over. Toby is a construction foreman who spends all of his time trying to build a new school for deaf children. Between her own busy hospital shifts, Deborah tries a few desperate measures to win his affections. She takes him food, does his laundry, and even enlists the help of the women of the town to help push the two together. When a handsome new school teacher arrives in town, Toby is suddenly very concerned that he might lose Deborah, though he doesn't really act upon those fears until she goes away for a month-long hospital-training trip in Chicago.

Though the main point of contention in the novel is "who will Deborah choose?" between her childhood crush and the school teacher, the latter doesn't arrive until two-thirds into the book. Further, she doesn't really even seriously consider him as an option, which ends up leaving the main story of the book "when will Toby and Deborah get together."

The book also features several in-depth side stories, some of which seem to get as much if not more page space than Deborah and Toby. There's wild dogs that must be hunted, a spat between siblings, and a nonverbal mother raising her infant child with the help of other women of the community. Though all of these sub-plots add to the picture of Blessing as an idyllic Christian town, it also just takes up a lot of extra pages, obscuring the main point of the book. I really liked some of the characters and was invested in the Deborah-Toby-school teacher romance, but it took way to long to for anything to actually happen.

The book gives a nice overview of a Christ-focused community and includes several prayers and mentions of Bible passages. Perhaps those already familiar with the Blessing series will be much more entertained by the sweeping descriptions of everyone else's lives in the community. For me, I'd have to pass as there isn't enough of a story here.

I received a free copy of this book, but was not required to write a positive review.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Wee Alphas: 26 A to Z Postcards, from Angelfish to Zebra

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Wee Alphas: 26 A to Z Postcards, from Angelfish to Zebra are a set of postcards that fold out of a book accordion style. Each card features an adorable, simple animal on a white background. The animal is in the shape of the letter its name begins with (F for fox, P for Panda, T for turtle, etc).

On the reverse side, there's a simple activity to fill out that features the letter. There are some that use six check-boxes to describe the person the post card is addressed to (You are: Incredible, Imaginative, Inventive, Intelligent, Interesting, Itchy). Some prompt you to draw a picture of your favorite thing that starts with a letter. Each has a PS that asks if you can find the hidden letter in each elephant. The third type of card is a few lines for a fun fact or a statement (Did you know? Just wanted to say...).

First of all, I absolutely love the idea of sharing this with a child. I've been sending the postcards to my three-year-old niece. I think she may be a little young to fully appreciate them, but she'll understand most of it. The illustrations are creative with the letter worked into the animal design, and the colors are simple and colorful but not overdone.  I do wish there was more variety in the activities outside of the three templates.

I received a free copy of this book, but was not required to write a positive review.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Review: "A Bird, a Girl, and a Rescue" by J.A. Myhre

When a reluctant Kiisa goes off to boarding school, her father surprises her with an unlikely gift - a talking bird, a fabled "messenger" that is able to talk to humans. Kiisa and her bird Njili are destined to save lives in a dangerous rescue mission brought about by African rebels. Along the way Kiisa learns about forgiveness, bravery, and evil's role in this world. Girls overcoming cultural barriers and prejudices is also a commonly addressed theme.

A Bird, a Girl, and a Rescue is a 130-page juvenile fiction, magical realism book with a Christian underlay.
The Christian elements of the book are subtle, mostly represented through the animal messengers sharing knowledge about what evil is, and how it take many forms.

It is set in Africa, representing a fictionalized version of real events and real places. Author J.A. Myhre uses her experience living in Africa to provide an accurate representation of a culture many young readers will encounter for the first time, including using words in the Luwendigo dialect such as kodi and milembre in greetings. These words and other words that may cause confusion for young American readers (football meaning american soccer, etc.) are all defined in a short glossary at the end. Key scenes were illustrated in full-page black and white sketches, which I thought added quite a bit of value, especially for young readers tying to imagine a different part of the world.

The plot was engaging and moved at a good pace. There were odd moments in the story where time seemed to be of the essence, but the protagonist was spending time bathing, cooking chicken, and sleeping, with no sense of immediacy. The rebel antagonist story line was quite dark, but not unrealistic or necessarily inappropriate. There were subtleties that younger audiences might not pick up on, such as the protagonist wondering why the rebels would kidnap a young girl - perhaps for a cook, perhaps something "more sinister" - and thinking that if it were her in that situation, "she would be dreading nightfall" (97-98).

A Bird, a Girl, and a Rescue is the second book in the Rwendingo Tales series. The first followed Kiisa's brother and his messenger animal in A Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest. I haven't read the first book yet, and I did not see any reason that you would need to read it first in order to appreciate this book, since though the family and setting are the same, the stories seem to be completely independent.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.