Wednesday, February 29, 2012

crafting with blendy & becky: birdseed cakes

I found this month's project in my mom's Country Woman magazine. Blendy and I made these cute and easy birdseed cakes while watching the Oscars the other night. (I adapted the recipe from the one found here.)

Step 1: Gather your supplies—bird seed (I picked up a $2 package at Wal-Mart), 2 packages unflavored gelatin (1/2 oz), waxed paper, twine, scissors, mixing bowl and spoon, baking sheet or other flat surface, large cookie cutters (not pictured), 1/2 cup boiling water (not pictured).

Step 2: Cut twine into 14-inch lengths—one for each birdseed cake. Tie ends together to form a loop.

Step 3: Dissolve gelatin in boiling water.

Step 3:  Add 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 cups birdseed to the gelatin and mix well. You can add more birdseed if necessary. (I used 2-1/2 cups—the original recipe calls for 1-1/2.) You want the mixture to be sticky but not soupy.

Step 4: Cover baking sheet with waxed paper. Place cookie cutters on sheet. Fill half full with birdseed mixture and press mixture firmly with spoon.

Step 5: Press the knotted end of the twine into the birdseed. Fill the cookie cutter to the top with birdseed and press mixture firmly.

Step 6: After several hours, gently remove cookie cutters. Allow cakes to dry for 72 hours, flipping once or twice each day.

Step 7: Once cakes are completely dry, hang for the birds to enjoy! (And no, my butterfly cake isn't deformed ... it was windy and cold outside, the butterfly was swaying in the breeze, and I only had the patience to take one picture.)

Yield: Four large birdseed cakes

This project is really simple, and though it requires some patience while you wait for the birdseed to dry, the actual time spent working on it is less than 30 minutes. I think it's worth it! (Now I just hope I see some birds partaking of their treat!)

we "choose to lose"

Wish us luck. Blendy and I have just begun a diet. It's Chris Powell's carb cycling diet—he's the guy on Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition. Blendy is following a modified version of the diet, but I'm trying to follow it to a "t" (including the recommended exercises) ... for at least a month. Then I'll reevaluate. For now, though, I'm eating lots of chicken, Greek yogurt, and green beans (because that's the only vegetable besides corn that I can handle eating in large quantities, and corn is deemed too starchy for low carb days), and I'm drinking lots of protein shakes. On this diet, one day is a high carb day, and the next is a low carb day. The thing I absolutely love about it is that on high carb days, you can have a cheat meal, where you eat anything you want! Today is a low carb day, so no cheating ... but I'm really looking forward to the asiago steaks Blendy is making for supper!

A friend is following a similar plan and has dropped two pant sizes in just under a month, so I have high hopes for this diet! Even if I don't lose lots of weight, though, I think the diet will be beneficial. After losing 20 pounds two years ago, I went back to my old eating habits and gained back 10 of the 20 pounds. So this should at least help me get my eating under control again!

You can get more information at Chris's website,, or from the book. Like I said at the beginning of this post, wish us luck!

Friday, February 24, 2012

"a darkly hidden truth" by donna fletcher crow

About the book (provided by the publisher): Felicity has decided to become a nun. She departs to visit convents in spite of her mother's imminent arrival and Father Anselm's request that she and Father Antony recover a missing priceless Russian icon before the Patriarch of Moscow arrives at the community for Holy Week. Felicity's discernment journey takes her to Rempstone, Norwich, London, and Walsingham, but her discovery of a friend's murdered body in a shallow grave, the disappearance of more icons, the shooting of a London art expert just after she visits him, the disappearance of Antony, and finally the abduction of Felicity and her mother teach her far more about motherhood, life, and love than she could learn in any convent retreat. Breathtaking chase scenes, mystical worship services, dashes through remote water-logged landscapes, the wisdom of ancient holy women, and the arcane rites of The Knights of St. John of Malta keep the pages turning. And will Felicity choose the veil—or Antony?

My take: A Darkly Hidden Truth is a well-written mystery that takes the reader on a journey through history and liturgy with a dash of romance thrown in. It is book two in author Donna Fletcher Crow's "The Monastery Murders" series, but you can easily jump in without reading book one. I really wanted to like it, but it just moved far too slowly for me. I suppose if I were really into English church history or learning about worship services surrounding Holy Week, I would have greatly enjoyed it. As it was, though, I just wanted to get to the "exciting" stuff—which began in earnest on page 263, when Antony was assaulted. From that point on, I flew through the pages, and I really enjoyed the way in which Crow resolved the conflict and wrapped up the mystery. I also appreciated the relationship between Felicity and her mother, and I thought the way Crow revealed the truth behind their relationship was touching.

Because of my lack of connection to the first two-thirds of the book, I have to give it 2-1/2 out of 5 stars. If you'd like to get a taste of the book for yourself, you can read the first two chapters here.

I also have to mention that the name Donna Fletcher Crow was very familiar to me, but I couldn't figure out why ... until I visited her blog. She wrote several of the "Choices" novels for kids—the ones that were a Christian version of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. I loved those books!

About the author: Donna Fletcher Crow is author of more than thirty-five novels. She has twice won first place in the Historical Fiction category from the National Association of Press Women, and has also been a finalist for "Best Inspirational Novel" from the Romance Writers of America. She is a member of The Arts Centre Group, and Sisters in Crime.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Kregel Publications.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"sweeter than birdsong" by rosslyn elliott

About the book (from the back cover): In Westerville, Ohio, 1855, Kate Winter's dreams are almost within reach. As the first woman to graduate from Otterbein College, she'll be guaranteed her deepest wish: escape from the dark secret haunting her family. But with her mother determined to marry her off to a wealthy man, Kate must face reality. She has to run. Now. And she has the perfect plan. Join the upcoming musical performance—and use it to mask her flight.

Ben Hanby, Otterbein College's musical genius, sees Kate Winter as an enigmatic creature, notable for her beauty, yet painfully shy. Then he hears her sing—and the glory of her voice moves him as never before. He determines to cast her in his musical and uncover the mystery that is Kate. Still, he must keep his own secret to himself. Not even this intriguing woman can know that his passionate faith is driving him to aid fugitives on the Underground Railroad.

A terrifying accident brings Kate and Ben together, but threatens to shatter both their secrets and their dreams. Kate can no longer deny the need to find her courage—and her voice—if she is to sing a new song for their future.

My take: Sweeter Than Birdsong continues the story of the Hanby family which started in Fairer Than Morning. (I reviewed Fairer Than Morning last fall.) I enjoyed Kate and Ben's story, and I especially identified with Kate, who had an incredible fear of public speaking. Her journey—from a painfully quiet wallflower to a still quiet yet confident woman with powerful convictions—was especially inspiring.

The portrayal of the Underground Railroad is one history buffs will enjoy, and the fact that the story is based on real people makes it seem that much more lifelike. While this isn't a book that I loved, I liked it a lot, so I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

If you'd like to sample the first chapters, go here. You can also buy the book or see what other bloggers are saying.

About the author:  Rosslyn Elliott is the award-winning author of Fairer than Morning, the first in the Saddler's Legacy series. She holds a B.A. from Yale University and a Ph.D. in English from Emory University. Her study of American literature and history inspired her to pursue writing fiction. Elliott lives in Albuquerque, where she homeschools her daughter and works in children's ministry. For more about Rosslyn, visit her website:

About the giveaway:In this second in the award-winning Saddler's Legacy series, Rosslyn Elliott has written a stirring novel of hope and faith inspired by real historical people and events. With Ben Hanby, a genius composer, Kate Winter, one of the first female college graduates in America, and John Parker, an ex-slave who risked his life time and again to help fugitive slaves, Sweeter than Birdsong is full of real heroes to inspire us. "I hope readers will find a renewed sense of strength in their own lives," says Elliott, "knowing that change is possible, and our efforts matter. I want them to remember these unique, brave people in history who left us a shining example of what it means to live out one's beliefs with passion and commitment."

So to celebrate the music in all of us, Rosslyn and Thomas Nelson are hosting this "sweet giveaway".

One fortunate winner will receive:
  • A Brand new iPod Nano (Winner's choice of color!)
  • Fairer than Morning by Rosslyn Elliott
  • Sweeter than Birdsong by Rosslyn Elliott
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends at noon on February 28th. Winner will be announced at Sweeter than Birdsong Author Chat Facebook Party on 2/28. Rosslyn will be chatting with guests, sharing a sneak peek of the next book in the series, hosting a trivia contest, and more! She'll also be giving away some GREAT prizes: gift certificates, books, season 1 of DowntownAbbey, and a book club prize pack! (Ten copies of the book for your small group or book club AND a LIVE Author Chat for your group with Rosslyn.)

So grab your copy of Sweeter than Birdsong and join Rosslyn and friends on the evening of the 28th for an evening of fun.
Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter
Don't miss a moment of the fun. RSVP today and tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 28th!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

happy birthday, blendy!

I don't know how it's possible, but my baby sister is turning 21 today! In honor of this momentous occasion, I thought I'd post a brief retrospective of her life ...
The four siblings. I adored her then, and it shows how much I adore her now
that I'm willing to post this picture from my ugly duckling phase!
Elementary-age Blendy with our Grandpa Roth. 
High School Blendy (on Nations Day of Homecoming Week) with
her friend and fellow Bachelor fan Janae.
This is one of my favorite pictures of the two of us, taken
on our fabulous 2010 road trip adventure!
The three sisters earlier this month in Indiana.
Happy Birthday, Blendy! I love you!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

media musings

It's time again to catch up on the media I've been consuming ...

The Vow—I saw The Vow opening weekend with my sister and a friend. The story is about a woman (Rachel McAdams) who wakes up from a coma with no recollection of the last five years of her life—which included transforming from a conservative meat-loving law student to a free-spirited vegetarian artist and meeting and marrying an insanely handsome independent recording studio owner (Channing Tatum). It's a sweet love story with an ending I didn't predict. (The plot does bear a resemblance to Susan May Warren's book The Shadow of Your Smile, which I reviewed earlier this year.) Even more heartwarming than the movie, though, it the true story that inspired it. The Vow is very, very loosely based on Kim & Krickitt Carpenter. Reader's Digest wrote about the Carpenters in 1996, and they've reposted the story online. As much as I loved The Vow, I think I would rather have watched a more faithful adaptation of the story. The Carpenters also wrote a book about their experiences, and a new edition has been released to coincide with the film. It's available in paperback or for the Kindle for less than $10. I just ordered my Kindle copy ... I'll be sure to let you know what I think of it when I'm finished reading!

Downton Abbey—SPOILER ALERT! If you're planning to watch Downton Season 2 (or LOST) at some point in the future, you'll want to skip this section.

Downton Abbey had some major missteps this season (can we say burn victim Peter/Patrick; Lord Grantham's dalliance with the maid; and Lavinia, the sweet girl whose presence served only to keep apart Matthew & Mary and who we knew to be doomed from the start?), yet in my opinion, the truly emotionally satisfying ending more than made up for any ridiculousness. I call this the LOST effect. I know legions of LOST fans would disagree, but I found the series finale to be so emotionally satisfying that I could completely forgive the fact that seemingly thousands of questions remained unanswered. That the sideways world turned out to be in essence a purgatory that our Losties created for themselves did not for one second diminish my joy at watching them all discover who they really were and reunite with their loved ones. The same holds true for Downton. Give me one emotional, long-awaited marriage proposal in the snow, and I'll forgive all kinds of melodramatic nonsense. And when the season finale comes packed with so much Maggie Smith goodness, I can't help but love it! (My favorite interchange from the finale—and perhaps the entire season—comes 47 seconds into this video.)

Hulu Plus—Did you know you can now stream Hulu Plus through your Wii? It would be nice if plain old Hulu was available, too, but I guess it makes sense to only have that option for the pay version. Hulu is giving Wii users a two-week free trial to Hulu Plus (others can get a one-week trial), so I decided to check it out. Three days into my trial, I've decided I definitely need to cancel before my credit card gets charged at the end of the two weeks.

Pros: 1. FOX shows are available the day after air, rather than 8 days after air. This isn't a huge deal, I don't like waiting more than a week to watch Fringe episodes. 2. Some shows and movies that aren't available on Netflix are available on Hulu Plus. 3. Hulu Plus has the entire current season of many popular shows.

Cons: 1. Not all shows are available to watch on devices other than a computer. For instance, Psych's current season. 2. Speaking of Psych, Hulu Plus members have to wait 30 days to watch USA shows, just like regular Hulu users do. 3. Ads. That's right, Hulu Plus users still have to watch ads! Remind me again why this costs money?

Do I prefer watching Parks & Rec on my 32-inch HDTV to watching it on my 14-inch laptop screen? Yes. Do I love the (almost) instant gratification of watching Fringe the day after it airs? Of course. But is it worth $7.99 a month to me? Nope.

Netflix—Yes, I'm still a happy Netflix subscriber. And now I'm even happier: I just won a year of Netflix from SingleRoots! (If you aren't familiar with SingleRoots, check them out. I have them linked in my "Blogs Worth Reading" blogroll.) The Starz catalog is set to be removed from Netflix on February 29, but I don't think it will have much of an impact on my Netflix use. (I can't even remember the last time I watched a movie on Netflix ... I almost solely watch TV shows.) A full list of those movies and television shows that will disappear at the end of the month can be found here.

The Bodyguard soundtrack—Fun fact: The Bodyguard was the first R-rated movie I ever saw. Granted, it was on network television in the mid-90's, so it was pretty toned down. I actually got permission from my mom to watch it (which is impressive if you know my history of sneaking to the basement to watch all sorts of things of which she wouldn't approve). Anyway, Whitney Houston's recent death got me thinking about The Bodyguard soundtrack, which was one of my introductory cds when I joined the BMG Music Service in the late 90's. So I dug it out—I'd never bothered to copy it to my iTunes—and listened to it the other night. I'd forgotten just how phenomenal her voice was. Hungry for more Whitney, I headed over to, where they've put together a playlist of 25 of her best songs. Check it out here.

What media has caught your fancy lately? Now that Downton is over for the season, do you have any other shows—British or otherwise—I should check out?

Monday, February 20, 2012

"the qur'an dilemma"

About the book (from press materials): The Qur'an Dilemma gives English-speaking readers, both Muslims and non-Muslims, many of the critical arguments concerning Islam and the Qur'an. It addresses whether the Qur'an is a book of terror or peace, an inspired divine book or a mere political text. The book weaves through Islamic history and its many classical commentaries and resources to provide an objective, investigative body of research concerning the truth about Islam.

The book is a result of the team effort of many former Muslim researchers, scholars, writers, and specialists. The team approach was taken to eliminate any undue bias, misunderstandings, or propaganda against Islam and its teachings.

The critical methodology used in this book was inspired by the courageous tradition of those who have dared to analyze the Qur'an throughout history. Contemporary intellectual productions available in Arabic and foreign sources were also incorporated. The result is a book directed equally to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

My take: The Qur'an Dilemma is an excellent resource for someone wanting to know that the Qur'an really says. It is divided into three sections: "The Background of the Qur'an,"—an introduction to both the Qur'an and The Qur'an Dilemma, an explanation of abrogated verses (verses that have been overridden by other verses), a discussion of women and the Qur'an, and other topical articles; "The Qur'anic Text"—a verse-by-verse reading of the first nine suras (chapters) with explanation about abrogation, contradictions in translation, and various interpretations of the text; and "Resources and References"—suggested readings, glossaries of names and definitions, a timeline of important dates in Muslim history, and other references.

As someone who has little knowledge of Islam or the Qur'an, I found the book to be a bit overwhelming. However, if I had specific questions about the Qur'an, the book is set up in such a way that I would easily be able to find answers. I don't think this book is meant to be read from cover-to-cover for the casual reader; rather, it functions well as a reference book. (I could see it being used as a textbook in a college class, as well.)

I also must comment on the appearance of the book. It is absolutely beautiful! You can see from the picture above that the cover is stunning; what you can't see is that the center design is embossed. Inside the book, color is used to draw attention to verses (for example, green signifies abrogation) and helps the reader track with the authors. This is a very attractive book that calls out to be picked up and examined!

Overall, I give The Qur'an Dilemma 5 out of 5 stars. It may not be something most readers will devour, but I think it accomplishes its purpose of shedding light on the contents of and problems with the Qur'an.

For more information or to order the book, please visit the website There you'll find a wealth of free information, including the opportunity to read sections of the Qur'an in a variety of languages.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Glass Road Public Relations. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, February 18, 2012

"mornings with jesus" giveaway winner!

With the help of, I've selected a winner in the Mornings with Jesus giveaway. The winner is the author of comment #6, Ja-La-Sta! I'll be contacting her for her mailing address and will get the book sent next week.

Thanks to everyone who entered!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

have you said this?

I came across a brilliant video today. Whether you read reviews or write them yourself, you've surely seen some of these phrases. And I must admit, I've used my fair share in my reviews. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"an amish wedding" by beth wiseman, kathleen fuller & kelly long

About the book: As Priscilla prepares for her wedding to Chester, her best friend Rose and older sister Naomi do their best to help her. But when things begin to go wrong, Priscilla doubts whether God really intends for her to marry Chester.

Meanwhile, Rose finds herself engaged to her longtime friend, Luke—a good man, but not one who ignites feelings of passion within her. And Naomi, whose heart was badly broken in the past, meets a man who just might be worth trusting her heart to.

In these intertwining stories, three Amish women learn what it means to trust their futures to God.

My take: As with any anthology, I enjoyed each of these stories to varying degrees. The first story, "A Perfect Secret" by Kelly Long, was my favorite. Rose and Luke's journey intrigued me, and the story contained some good mystery elements along with the romance.

I also enjoyed Kathleen Fuller's "A Perfect Match." I've read several Fuller books, and I've liked each of them.  This is the most "straight up romance" of the three, and Naomi's matchmaking ways made me chuckle.

The final story, "A Perfect Plan," was my least favorite. The plot just didn't interest me, though the story was written well. Chester and Priscilla faced obstacles as they prepared for marriage, but none of those obstacles seemed like they might actually drive them apart. And since the story takes place after the two have already fallen in love, I just didn't care too much about what happened.

If rating these separately, I'd give "A Perfect Secret" 5 stars, "A Perfect Match" 4 stars, and "A Perfect Plan" 3 stars. So that averages out to a 4-star book. I do think that Amish fiction fans—especially fans of any of the authors—will really like this book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this product free for review from through its Vine reviewer program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

valentine's day

It's Valentine's Day. As a single woman, I'm supposed to loathe this day, right? Here's the thing, though: I don't. Do I wish that I had a significant other to make this day special? Of course. Do I sometimes fantasize about a secret admirer coming out of the woodwork to profess his love for me on this day of romance? Yes. (However, if this actually happened, I'd probably find myself creeped out beyond belief. It's a nice rom-com scenario, though!) But can I still enjoy this day on my own? Absolutely! I think it helps that I'm not an overly sentimental person. Sure, I have my "God, why am I still single?" moments like everyone else, but they're not usually triggered by Valentine's Day.

Through the years, I've spent Valentine's Day in a variety of ways: judging at a speech meet, going out with friends, watching sappy movies on the Hallmark Channel, and having a special dinner with my family. In fact, special Valentine's Day dinners with my parents and siblings are my favorite Valentine's memories. I remember one year—I think I was in high school at the time—when we all dressed up, used Mom's wedding china, and had steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, red Jello, and red Kool-Aid. My mom did a great job of making Valentine's Day about the love of family, rather than romantic love, and that's a tradition I plan to carry into my future family. (She also liked to give us "Valentine socks"—a tradition I appreciated much more than my sisters did!)

So how will I be spending this Valentine's Day? Well, tonight I'll probably be working with speech kids for a while. And then Blendy is coming over to make me dinner, and we'll play Just Dance and watch Smash. Sounds like a good Valentine's Day to me :-)

In case you'd like a chuckle on the day of love, check out today's post on Stuff Christians Like. And the answer is no—I do not want to be a shipwrecked tentmaker!

Valentine's Day: love it or loathe it? Do you have any special traditions—romantic or not—that you observe?

Monday, February 13, 2012

"mornings with jesus" review & giveaway

About the book (provided by Litfuse): "Be still and know that I am God.” is one of the most beautiful verses from the Bible, but it’s not easy to practice in this busy world. Mornings with Jesus will help you do just that—“be still” in Jesus’ beautiful and powerful presence. For those who are seeking a deeper experience in their relationship with Christ, Mornings with Jesus offers a fresh perspective of who Jesus is (the Healer, the Son of God, the Comforter, the Good Shepherd) and what that means for day-to-day life. With a warm and friendly voice, 365 short devotional writings on the character and teachings of Jesus encourage readers to greet each day by drawing near to Him and inviting His presence into their day. Spend time with Jesus at the beginning of each day and experience His nearness and peace in a new way throughout the year. Each day’s selection includes: • a Bible verse • an entry based on Jesus: His words, miracles, and parables; His wisdom, compassion, and comfort; His mystery, power, divinity, and humanity • a “faith step” that will inspire and challenge readers to apply the day’s message to their lives.

To see what other reviewers are saying, go here. You can buy the book here.

My take: Mornings with Jesus is a great devotional to read as you begin your day. It reminds me of the "Our Daily Bread" devotionals my grandparents used—only these devotionals are geared toward women. I wouldn't recommend this as the only thing you do in your time with the Lord, but it makes a nice supplement to Bible reading and prayer. It's a great way to focus your thoughts first thing in the morning.

I received my copy a few days into the new year, and I've been reading each day's devotional as soon as I wake up in the morning. I decided that, even though I needed to review the devotional, I would not read ahead; I'd simply read each devotional on the appropriate day and base my review on the days I'd read. A couple weeks ago, I was really struggling with being happy for my friends who were in new relationships, had recently become engaged, or had just had a child—all things that I have longed for but have not yet experienced. I woke up one morning feeling really fragile. When I opened the devotional, the day's message seemed geared right to me. Author Sharon Hinck spoke about her desire to be genuinely happy for friends who were experiencing great joys while she walked through a season of pain. And then she wrote the words that jumped off the page at me: "I can't do any of it. But Jesus can. And he lives in me."

In my own power, I cannot remove my eyes from my pain to rejoice with my friends. But God can grant me that power, that joy! That reminder—that I don't need to face things alone—was so freeing! The next day, I wanted to tell a friend what I had learned, so I opened the devotional to the previous day's devotion to soak in the message again. What I saw was a message about being busy. Confused, I started flipping through the pages. I finally found the devotion I'd read ... it was the one written for the following Tuesday. Somehow, even though I have a bookmark that I move along day by day, I'd managed to read the wrong devotion that fragile Friday morning! I may not know how it happened, but I know why. It's because on that Friday morning, God knew exactly what I needed to see in order for Him to speak truth into my heart!

About the giveaway: I have a copy of Mornings with Jesus to give away to one of my readers! As I said before, this book is a great supplement to your time with God, and I'm sure it will be a blessing as you use it. On Saturday, I'll choose one commenter at random to receive a copy. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post by 6 p.m. (CST) on Saturday, February 18. The giveaway is now closed! Go here to see who won!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"beyond molasses creek" by nicole seitz

About the book (provided by Litfuse): 

Three lives are bound by a single book . . . and the cleansing waters of Molasses Creek.

Having traveled to the ends of the earth as a flight attendant, Ally Green has finally returned to the Lowcountry to bury her father as well as the past. But Vesey Washington is still living across the creek, and theirs is a complicated relationship—he was once her best friend . . . and also part of the reason she’s stayed away so long. When Ally discovers a message her father left behind asking her to quit running, it seems her past isn’t through with her yet.

As Ally’s wandering spirit wrestles with a deep longing to flee again, a young woman on the other side of the world escapes her life of slavery in the rock quarries of Nepal. A mysterious sketchbook leads Sunila Kunari to believe there’s more to her story than she’s ever been told, and she’s determined to follow the truth wherever it leads her.

A deep current intertwines the lives of these three souls, and a destiny of freedom, faith, and friendship awaits them all on the banks of Molasses Creek.

My take: Beyond Molasses Creek is a beautiful story of love, heartache, and redemption. Told in first person from Ally's, Vessey's, and Sunila's points of view, each person comes alive through the prose. All the characters—main and supporting—seem like people you could really run into on the street. No one is angelically good (though Vessey is pretty close); no one is hideously evil. It's a "warts-and-all" portrayal that you don't often see in Christian fiction. And I love that the ending is happy but not contrived. Beyond Molasses Creek is a book to be savored.

I read and reviewed another of Seitz's books, Saving Cicadas, a couple years ago. That book won me over eventually, but I had a hard time connecting with it at first. That was not the case with Beyond Molasses Creek. Equally as beautiful as Saving Cicadas turned out to be, Beyond Molasses Creek gripped me from the beginning and didn't let go until I finished the last page. Seitz has grown as a writer between these two books, and I can't wait to read what she writes next! I give Beyond Molasses Creek an exuberant 5 out of 5 stars!

Interested? See what other bloggers are saying or buy the book.

About the author: Nicole Seitz is the author of several critically acclaimed novels - The Inheritance of Beauty, Saving Cicadas, A Hundred Years of Happiness, Trouble the Water, and The Spirit of Sweetgrass. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Journalism, and also has a degree in Illustration from Savannah College of Art & Design. Her paintings are featured on the covers of her books. Visit her at @NicoleSeitz, Facebook and for more information.

About the giveaway: Nicole is celebrating the release of Beyond Molasses Creek with a fabulous "Friendship" Facebook party! She'll be giving away a ton of great stuff! (KINDLE TOUCH, some of her own beautiful artwork, a Book Club Prize Pack [10 copies of the book for your small group/book club and a Live Skype Chat with Nicole], and more!) CLICK the button (below) to RSVP for the party - then join us on February 16th for a book chat, story sharing and prizes! Hope to see you there!
Save the Date! 2/16!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

q&a: interview with "four letter words" author

Yesterday I shared my review of Bill Giovannetti's book, Four Letter Words. Litfuse supplied us with an interview he did about the book, and I think it's worth sharing here. Enjoy!

What's Four Letter Words about, and where did you get the title?
Four Letter Words is about defending your faith in Christ. If you've ever felt tongue-tied standing up for Jesus, this book can help. Even though our culture claims tolerance as a virtue, that tolerance stops at Christianity's front door: witness the hostility directed toward a sincere Christ-follower like Tim Tebow. Judging by reactions to him, you'd think he just cussed out his grandma when all he did was say a word for Christ. Speaking God's truth and living your faith is quickly becoming today's profanity. Tougher days are coming; we need to get ready. There has never been a truth-system more satisfying, consistent, logical and beautiful than Christianity. I wanted to help God's people rise up and say so.

What four letter words do you write about?
True: who says your truth has to be my truth too? Know: how do you know God is real? Pain, Evil, and Ouch: why doesn't God stop the bad stuff? Damn: how can a loving God send people to hell? Word: What makes the Bible so special? Wait: isn't it unreasonable to expect today's people to live by biblical standards of sexuality? Hope: what good has Christianity done in the world? The book has ten chapters, discussion questions (in the book and downloadable from the website), and 208 pages.

Did you ever struggle with your faith? How did you work through that? 
Even though I've been a pastor for a long time, I struggle with my faith a lot. My earliest struggles – back in high school days – centered on scientific stuff, like evolution. In the book I tell the story of how I made peace with faith in a Creator God and how I fit together science, logic, and the gospel in my own heart. Now that I'm a bit older, my struggles come more out of pain and suffering. Why does God let people hurt? I cover those topics too. Struggles are normal – we just can't let them overwhelm our faith or uproot our joy. It's super-important for us to know every question raised against Christianity has an answer. I try to provide some of those answers along with simple talking points for everyday conversations.

Who is this book for?
This book is for anyone who either struggles with faith or who wants to help friends who struggle with faith. I wrote to strengthen faith and equip believers to share faith. Our church has used this book with high school students, young adults, and senior citizens—it's been really well received across all age groups. Other churches are using it in small groups and youth groups. I would love to see this book in the hands of every high school graduate and new college student: they need to be inoculated from the anti-Christian venom they're going to experience. Toward the end, Four Letter Words invites readers to faith in Christ, so it can be resource for evangelism too. Discussion questions are included.

If I read this book, what will get out of it?
I wrote Four Letter Words with three simple goals in mind:
1. Clarity: Know what you believe.
2. Confidence: Know why you believe. 
3. Courage: Know what to say when you don't know what to say.

Would you say that Christians are persecuted? 
Not so much in the U.S., but persecution is definitely coming. It's not that Christians are changing; it's that culture is running from God so fast that yesterday's normal is becoming today's weird. Christians will be increasingly marginalized. Tell a typical college student he needs to be celibate till marriage and he'll look at you like you're Amish. Why don't you hop in your buggy and trot along. A generation ago, our culture would have supported that value. Today, culture attacks it. It's going to get tougher to stay strong for Jesus. We need a new breed of Christ-follower: alert to the beliefs that tick people off, and ready to fire the weapons of truth and grace with courage, compassion, humor, and love.

There are so many books on the gospel message, do we really need another one?
Thank God for a lot of excellent books out there to defend your faith. Four Letter Words stands out because it is written for the everyday Christian. You won't need advanced degrees to understand its message. I wanted to go deep, but keep it really clear. I also made sure to include "Talking Points" after each chapter. That's where I pull the chapter's themes into a handful of memorable and repeatable truths. These take-aways can help you engage your friends in solid conversations about Christ. While many other apologetics books focus on a single topic, Four Letter Words deals with common topics that often make the average Christian feel tongue-tied. Consider it your one-stop shop for equipping in apologetics.

About Bill: Bill Giovannetti serves on the faculty of A.W. Tozer Seminary and is the Senior Pastor of Neighborhood Church of Redding. Four Letter Words is his second book. He has written numerous articles and is a popular speaker. Bill hates legalism, loves grace, and teaches that God is infinitely more committed to us than we will ever be to him. He is a graduate of Trinity Seminary and earned his doctorate at Fuller Theological Seminary.

To learn more, please visit

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"four letter words" by bill giovannetti

About the book (provided by Litfuse): Thou shalt tolerate every opinion... except the Christian's. Today's postmodern "prime directive" leaves many followers of Jesus tongue-tied. In the global village, isn't it unreasonable, and even dangerous, to suggest that the Bible has a monopoly on truth?

The church needs a new breed of Christ-follower. We need Christ-followers who are alert to today's touchy ideas, the truths that fire up more heat than light. We need Christ-followers who can make a clear case for the Bible's worldview; who are ready to help our friends think through their beliefs; who can recognize inconsistencies and challenge them; and who can do all of this with humility, confidence, humor, and love. For more information visit

My take: Four Letter Words is the perfect resource for both teens and adults who want to be able to defend and explain their faith. In the book's opening chapter, Giovannetti explains why he wrote this book: "I wrote it to teach Christ's followers to cuss boldly—to speak faith's four letter words—without backing down, yet without coming across as a religious inquisitor either." That statement resonated with me, as so often Christians who speak out come across as just as pigheaded, stubborn, and intolerant as those they are debating. Giovanetti's focus is on defending the faith, but doing it with love.

Each chapter focuses on one word, such as True, Love, and Wait. After listing "Touchy Ideas" and "Touchy Scriptures"—those that many believers question and unbelievers are offended by—Giovannetti discusses the topic in depth. Then at the end of the chapter, he lists several "Talking Points"—ideas for discussing the topic with friends.

Giovannetti writes in a clear, logical voice, and his examples serve to bring each topic out of the abstract and into reality. This book is a must-read for teens, whether they are questioning their faith, exploring the idea of Christianity, or trying to explain their faith in Christ to others ... and adults would benefit from it, too! I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

Want to see what other bloggers thought? Go here. You can buy it here. (The Kindle version is only $4.99, and it includes hyperlinks to some of the resources Giovannetti mentions. It's totally worth your $5!)

About the author: Dr. Bill Giovannetti is a professor at A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary and the senior pastor of Neighborhood Church of Redding. An experienced speaker and author, Bill informs the mind in ways that touch the heart. He enjoys life with his wife and two kids in northern California. For more information about Bill and his other books, visit and

About the giveaway: 
Bill is celebrating the new Kindle edition of Four Letter Words (for only $4.99)! He’ll be traveling coast to coast over the next few weeks on this virtual book tour and he's celebrating by hosting a great giveaway! Click here to find out how you can win two gift certificates to Amazon (in the amount of $50 and $25) and free downloads of his yet-to-be-released title, Recession-Proof: Living a God-Blessed Life in a Messed Up World. The whole scoop here:

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a Kindle copy of this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"the sound of red returning" by sue duffy

About the book: Fifteen years ago, concert pianist Liesl Bower witnessed the murder of her mentor, a Harvard music professor. The subsequent revelation that he was an intelligence agent working for both the US and Russia rocked her world. Now, the people behind Liesl's mentor's murder believe that she holds the key to the identity of a Russian mole in the Israeli government. Liesl's life is shattered once again, and she must work with the CIA to locate the information she didn't know she possessed—the fate of a nation is at stake!

My take: The Sound of Red Returning is an intriguing, action-packed story that kept me guessing. I enjoyed the twists and turns, and I never quite had everything figured out! I didn't ever fully engage with it, though—in part due to the vast number of characters. I knew the facts about them—author Sue Duffy did a good job of fleshing out their backstories—but I didn't really care about them. I guess I connected intellectually but not emotionally.

I really liked the plot, and I think it would be a great movie—a tense political thriller. As a book, though, I have to give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Interested? You can read an excerpt, see what other bloggers are saying, or buy the book.

About the author: Sue Duffy is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Moody Magazine, The Presbyterian Journal, Sunday Digest, and The Christian Reader. She is the author of Mortal Wounds (Barbour, 2001) and Fatal Loyalty (Kregel, 2010). Sue has also contributed to Stories for a Woman’s Heart (Multnomah). She and her husband, Mike, have three grown children. Find out more at

About the giveaway:  Win a Kindle Fire from @SueDuffy2 and @KregelBooks in the "Red Returning" Giveaway! Sue Duffy and her publisher, Kregel Publications, are celebrating the release of The Sound of Red Returning by giving away a Kindle Fire prize package worth over $200 to one lucky winner!!!! (1/23-2/11)

Enter Sue Duffy’s Giveaway today and you could win:

* A brand new Kindle Fire with Wi-Fi
* The Sound of Red Returning (Book One in the Red Returning series) by Sue Duffy

To enter click one of the icons below. But, hurry! The giveway ends on 2/11. Sue will be announcing the winner of the “Red Returning” Giveaway on February 13th on the Litfuse website!

Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter
Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, February 4, 2012

best books of 2011

I intended to post this before the new year ... obviously, I didn't quite make it!

I read a ton of books in 2011. I reviewed 59 of them, and I probably read at least 10 that I didn't review. If you figure an average of 5 hours per book, that comes to a whopping 345 hours—or just more than 14 days! When you read as much as I do, it's hard to remember which books you liked the most. So I've compiled a list of my favorite reads of 2011 in several different categories (some are a bit contrived so that I can include more books). If I reviewed the book, I've included a link. Note that these are books that I read in 2011—they may have been published earlier.

Historical Fiction
Heiress by Susan May Warren (review)—This is my favorite of all of Susan May Warren's books, which is saying something, since I've enjoyed most of her work. I love how real the characters seem, and it's a great mix of high society and the Wild West. (Sounds strange, I know, but Warren makes it work!)

Contemporary (non-Romance) Fiction
The Fine Art of Insincerity by Angela Hunt (review)—This is the story of three sisters who gather to go through their deceased grandmother's things. The Fine Art of Insincerity certainly isn't "fluff"—and the book caused me to think about the way I relate to my sisters.


The Art of Romance by Kaye Dacus (review)—Anyone who's tired of reading about 22-year-old heroines should check out Kaye Dacus's books. She writes about real women. Women who wear a size 14. Women who didn't get married straight out of college. Women who live their lives, rather than waiting around for the "perfect" man. The Art of Romance is the first Dacus book I read, but it won't be the last!

Science Fiction/Fantasy
Forbidden by Ted Dekker & Tosca Lee (review)—Ted Dekker is a masterful fantasy writer. (His crime novels? I could do without those.) The Circle series (and all the other connected books), Immanuel's Veins, and now The Books of Mortals feature well-constructed worlds that sweep the reader into them. Forbidden, the first in The Books of Mortals, is my favorite Dekker book since Black—it's that good! 

Romantic Comedy
Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones (review)—The time I spent reading Save the Date was probably the most fun I had reading all year! One of those implausible yet hilarious stories, Save the Date is pure fluff and pure enjoyment.

YA Fiction
Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg (review)—It's Pride & Prejudice set in an elite boarding school. Such fun!

Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress—This is the only book on the list I haven't reviewed (though I may still get around to it). It's a series of short stories inspired by Jane Austen's books. Not all of the stories are winners—"Waiting," a continuation of Persuasion, just about put me to sleep—but most are lighthearted and fun.

Growing up Amish by Ira Wagler (review)—Ira Wagler's memoir chronicling his life in and journey out of the Amish church is an incredibly fascinating look at the Amish faith.

Amish Fiction
Beside Still Waters (review) and Along Wooded Paths (review) by Tricia Goyer—In a sea of Amish fiction, Goyer's Big Sky series stands out. First of all, it doesn't idealize the Amish lifestyle. Instead, it features real characters grappling with issues of faith. I can't wait to read the third book this spring!

Indelible by Kristen Heitzmann (review)—A character-driven mystery featuring a protagonist with an eidetic memory. Very interesting and quite suspenseful.

Book I Talked about Most
Longing by Karen Kingsbury (review)—I talked about this book so much because it made me so mad! And now I'm scared to read the final book in this series, Loving, because I just know I'll be really upset if Bailey & Cody don't end up together. Never before have I had such strong feelings for book characters!

The Opposite of Art by Athol Dickson (review)—I'm not even sure how to describe this book, other than to say that it is art in words. It is well worth your time.

Forsaken Kingdom: City of Prophecy by Peter Dudek (review)—In my time as a book blogger, I have read some absolute drek that is self-published. City of Prophecy is not one of those books. If you just picked it up and started reading, you would have no idea it hadn't come out of a traditional publishing house. I really enjoyed this story, and I hope to be able to read the second book in the series soon!

Favorite Book of 2011
Blue Skies Tomorrow by Sarah Sundin (review)—A World War II story with a timely subplot, Blue Skies Tomorrow is absolutely captivating. I completely devoured the book, and I look forward to reading more books by Sundin!

Any thoughts on my picks? What were your favorite books of 2011?