Monday, September 26, 2011

my memories software review & giveaway

I am not a scrapbooker. I have a scrapbook, which I began in early high school and sort of-kind of worked on through my junior year of college. I loved the idea of scrapbooking, but I didn't love the time and creativity it took.

Enter digital scrapbooking. I have friends who have been into it for years (and who create really cool looking pages), but I really never understood what it was, and I definitely had no interest in trying it out. Then someone from contacted me about reviewing their My Memories Suite v2 digital scrapbooking software. After checking out the company to make sure the offer was legit, I agreed.

The download process, as well as the installation, was simple. Within minutes, I was ready to create my own page. And that's when I got overwhelmed. I finally just picked a template and tried to go with it, but nothing looked exactly as I wanted it to. (Honestly, I wasn't too impressed with the templates available.) So then I switched to the "Design Your Own" option. I had a blast discovering all the things I could do! Obviously, I'm new to the world of digital scrapbooking, so I don't have anything to compare this to, but for a novice user like me, the MyMemories software seems pretty nice--and pretty simple.

One of my favorite aspects is the fact that you can add music and narration to your album and then burn it to a DVD or even put it on your ipod. Following our great road trip adventure to Oregon two years ago, I spent hours (and hours and hours) creating a DVD of our trip. And the end result was basically a slide show set to music. MyMemories would allow me to create a ... slide show set to music ... but with cool looking pages instead of just pictures! (In order to do this, you have to download the media export software, which is free.)

You can print your pages yourself if you want to, or you can have them printed in a photo book. I have a lot of experience with Shutterfly, and the photo books through MyMemories are very comparable in price to Shutterfly; in fact, they're actually a bit cheaper. (Of course, when you factor in that you have to pay nearly $40 to download the software, the price advantage goes away, but if you want to be able to completely customize your book, MyMemories gives you that freedom.)

They also have (as of this writing) 77 free downloadable kits--some papers, some embellishments, some templates, some quick pages (where you basically just drop in your picture(s) and the page is finished). I downloaded several already.

So do I recommend this? Yes, with reservations. Personally, I would never pay $40 for scrapbooking software--because I wouldn't use it enough to make it worthwhile. For someone who wants to get into it, though, I think this product would be useful.

I thought I'd give you a glimpse of what a novice can do with this software. You ready?

My first attempt. It took me forever to do this, and I'm not thrilled with it.
This one I'm much happier with--and it took me half the time!
Now for the giveaway! is letting me give away their software to one of my readers! If you win, you'll be given a code to download your own MyMemories software. The winner will be chosen at random from all the qualifying entries.

Here's how to enter:

  • Visit and pick out a scrapbooking kit you like. Leave a comment telling me which one you picked. (You must do this in order to be entered in the drawing.)

You can earn one additional entry for doing each of the following (for a total of 5 extra entries). Please leave a comment for each one you do:
  • Follow this blog. (If you already are a follower, leave a comment telling me that.)
  • Follow the MyMemories blog
  • Become a fan of MyMemories on facebook.
  • Follow me on Twitter. (If you already follow me, let me know.)
  • Follow MyMemories on Twitter.

This giveaway closes on Friday, September 30, at 11:59 p.m., so be sure to get your entries in soon, and check back on Saturday to see who won!

For those of you who don't win, if you decide you want to buy the software, here's a coupon code for $10 off: STMMMS47474. Just enter it at checkout.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this software free from 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."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Hook, Line, and Sinker" by Susan May Warren

Ross and Abby were falling in love ... at least that's what she thought, until Ross's brother Scott died and Ross accused her of really loving Scott instead of him. A year later, Abby and Ross have virtually no contact, despite the fact that they both attend the same college. All that changes when the campus ministries they lead both enter a fishing contest in Deep Haven. As they vie for the top prize, they'll come face to face with the problems that drove them apart, and they may even find their way back to each other.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"falls like lightning" by shawn grady

Smokejumper Silas Kent ran away from love several years ago, and he never thought he'd see beautiful pilot Elle again. But when Silas is summoned to a huge fire in the Sierra Nevadas, he learns that Elle will be piloting his crew. The two reconnect, but they get separated when their plane goes down—and Silas soon discovers the crash was no accident. While fighting for his life and searching for Elle, Silas finally must face what really matters.

My take: If I had to sum up my feelings for this book in one word, it would be, "Meh." There's nothing particularly wrong with the book, but I just never engaged with the story, and I had a hard time forcing myself to finish the book. Never once did I doubt that Silas and Elle would find their happily ever after; I was also certain that justice would find the bad guys. Those facts on their own aren't enough to make me dislike the book (after all, I'm a huge fan of romantic comedies, and I never doubt that the hero and heroine will waltz off into the sunset together); I think my main issue was that Grady never made me care if Silas and Elle ended up together. My favorite character, by far, was Bo, one of the guys on Silas's crew. I wish Grady had spent more time with him and less with Silas.

I give Falls Like Lightning 2.5 out of 5 stars.

If you'd like to get a taste of the book, you can read the excerpt below: 
Falls Like Lightning

About the author: 
Shawn Grady has served for more than a decade as a firefighter and paramedic in Reno, NV, where he lives with his wife and three children. Named the "Most Promising Writer" at the 2008 Mt. Hermon Writers Conference, he is the author of Through the Fire. Visit his website at

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free for review from Bethany House Publishers through their book reviewer program. 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."

my life in films

I came across this post on author Kaye Dacus's blog this morning, and I couldn't resist making my own list. After all, I do love me some movies!

Films that Remind Me of Childhood
  • The Sound of Music. When I was little, we didn't have a VCR, so I didn't get to watch many movies. My grandparents had one, though, and every time we visited, I wanted to watch The Sound of Music. And I pretended (in my own head, of course--not aloud) that I was Liesl.
  • The Three Stooges: Disorder in the Court and Malice in the Palace. This is another video we always watched at my grandparents' house ... and my grandma hated it. Disorder in the Court was my favorite, but I always watched Malice in the Palace, too. Both films are on YouTube--here and here!
  • Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue. After watching this movie, I sat on my little brother and made him promise never to do drugs! Remember how I said we didn't have a VCR? Well, we didn't, but the school did, so my dad would let us use the VCR on weekends. (My parents were boys' dorm parents.) This movie didn't belong to us--it was always on the TV cart, and we always seemed to watch it. If you're a child of the '80s, you've gotta watch it! (I am amazed at how much I remember of it!)
  • The BBC/Wonderworks productions of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; and The Silver Chair. My uncle gave us these one Christmas, and we watched them over ... and over ... and over!
Films that Defined My Teens
    • While You Were Sleeping. This movie came out when I was an 8th grader--and even today, it's my favorite movie!
    • Derby. Honestly, it's not that great. But I still love it for all the memories it brings back! My cousins and I watched it ad nauseam--so many times that my video tape began wearing out and the sound eroded!
    • Newsies. This movie (and the music) became my obsession. I first watched it at a friend's birthday party, and it quickly became one of my favorites. It's hard to fathom now, but I searched and searched and searched for the movie and sountrack (how did I live without Amazon?)--and I didn't get either one until early college. My sister and I still have Newsies sing-alongs on road trips!
    • The Princess Bride. Didn't see this until the 8th grade, even though it had been out for years. It quickly became one of my family's favorite films.
    • Liar, Liar. I'll admit it: I lived a pretty sheltered childhood. And I do believe most people in my class had a perception of me that was way off. So I guess this makes sense, but still ... When Liar, Liar came out, my friend Dori and I made plans to see it. We were talking about said plans in Spanish one day, and this guy turned to Dori and said, "Don't take Becky to that movie. She won't like it." Well, guess what, Jeremy? I did like the movie, and I even own it now. And every time I watch it, I think of that incident.
    • Anne of Avonlea. How many times did I rewind and rewatch the kiss at the end? It's probably better that you don't know!
    Films that Defined My College Years
      • The Matrix. Though I loved science fiction TV (like Star Trek: TNG and Stargate: SG-1), I never watched sci-fi films ... until The Matrix. The story absolutely blew me away, and the special effects were pretty cool, too! (Parts 2 & 3, though ... not so much!)
      • Snow White: A Tale of Terror. During my first semester at Grace, I didn't have any Thursday afternoon classes. Neither did Danielle, this other girl on my hall. We never hung out or even really talked at any other time, but most Thursdays we'd end up in the lounge together watching movies on Lifetime. One Thursday, this was on. I've never seen it again, but every time it comes to mind, I remember Thursdays with Danielle.
      • A Walk to Remember. I could name one of about a dozen chick flicks here, but of them all, A Walk to Remember was my favorite. I loved the story. I loved the soundtrack. I loved Shane West.
      Films When I Need a Good Cry
      • Brian's Song (2001 TV movie, not the original). This is the only movie that consistently makes me sob--I even start crying before Brian gets sick because I know what's coming!
      • Up. The beginning. My heart just breaks for Carl!
      Nightmares from Films
      • Only one. Arachnophobia. I watched about five minutes of it once, had a nightmare about spiders that night, and have stayed away from it ever since!
      Films that Are Guilty Pleasures
      The Last Film I Saw at the Theater
      • The Help. Just saw it last night with my mom, aunt, and cousin. Loved it!
      A Favorite Film Few Others Seem to Know About
      • If you've been reading my blog very long, you already know what I'm going to say, as I simply can't stop talking about it: My Girlfriend's Boyfriend! (If you click on the link on the title, you'll go to Hulu, where you can watch it right now.) Alyssa Milano. The always adorable Christopher Gorham. Jimmy Olsen himself, Michael Landes. A brief appearance by Tiffani from California Dreams. AND it's a cute story.
      What about you? Leave your answers in the comments, or better yet, write about it on your own blog and post the link in the comments. And please, if you haven't yet watched My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, do it. You'll thank me later.

      Thursday, September 22, 2011

      "a lancaster county christmas" by suzanne woods fisher

      Amish wife and mother Mattie dreams of having a large family, but her recent miscarriage has made it clear that her six-year-old son may be the only child she has, and she fears if she doesn't keep a close eye on him, she'll lose him. Photographer Jamie longs for a relationship with the father who abandoned her as a child while pushing away her husband C.J. When Jamie and C.J. end up stranded at Mattie's farm on Christmas Eve, the two women form a bond despite their differences--and each learns a valuable lesson from the other.

      My take: A Lancaster County Christmas is a perfect winter's evening read. It's short (less than 200 pages), sweet, and funny. That was the biggest surprise to me--I definitely didn't pick up this book thinking I'd laugh out loud, but I did ... multiple times! Besides being a talented storyteller, Fisher is funny! This book is also serious, dealing with disintegrating marriages, parent-child relationships, troubled teens, and floundering faith. This was my first Suzanne Woods Fisher book, but I doubt it will be my last.

      If you're looking for a quick, entertaining read, this book could be it! (It also would make an excellent Christmas present ... reading a Christmas book has put me in the mood for the season!)

      About the Giveaway:

      It’s Christmas in September!

      To celebrate the release of her first Christmas book, Suzanne Woods Fisher has teamed up with her publisher, Revell, to bring you the "Christmas in September" iPad Giveaway! The winner will be announced on 9/27 at the A Lancaster County Christmas Facebook Party! Details below. Tell your friends and join in the fun (9/7-9/27).

      Oh and be sure to follow the blog tour here - many of the bloggers have copies of the book to giveaway! 

      Suzanne and Revell will be presenting one merry winner with a Christmas Prize Pack (valued at over $600):
      • A Brand New iPad 2 with Wi-Fi
      • $25 gift certificate to iTunes
      • A copy of A Lancaster County Christmas
      To enter, click one of the icons below. But, hurry the giveaway ends on 9/26.

      But, wait! There's more! The winner will be announced at the A Lancaster County Christmas Facebook Party on 9/27 at Suzanne's author page. During the party she'll be revealing something *BIG* - you won't want to miss it. She'll also be hosting a book chat, trivia contest and giving away a few early Christmas presents! Hope to see you there.

      Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter
      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."

      guest post: suzanne woods fisher

      Today, I have a treat for you: a guest post from author Suzanne Woods Fisher! Later today, I'll be reviewing her latest book, A Lancaster County Christmas. (Here's a hint: I liked it!) As skeptical as I tend to be of the Amish lifestyle, they do have some things right--and I definitely needed to hear some of the things Suzanne has to say!

      Five Things I’ve Learned from the Amish that Have Nothing to Do with being Amish and Have Everything to Do with being a Christian:

      Being Amish is not a lifestyle. Life among the Amish has to do with faith. Faith can’t be squeezed to an hour or two on Sunday morning; it infuses their entire life like a teabag in hot water. What they do and how they do it is rooted in the spiritual question: What is pleasing to God?

      Amish proverb: “Letting go of earthly possessions enables us to take hold of heavenly treasures.”

      The Lesson: To pray about my day’s activities and offer them to God, first, for His purposes. And then trusting interruptions (seeing a friend in the grocery store, for example) or de-railings (those days when everything goes wrong!) to be God-managed.  

      Cherish your family. A family that works together, grows together. Amish families spend a lot of time together and try to keep their work close to home. Children are valued as gifts from God, wanted and enjoyed. They’re included in all of Amish life—from barn raisings to three-hour church services. An Amish bishop once said, "We don't prepare our children for the future, we prepare our children for eternity."

      Amish proverb: “Tomorrow’s world will be shaped by what we teach our children today.”

      The Lesson: Involving children in chores and activities may not be the most convenient or efficient way to accomplish a task, but the benefits are long lasting. Look for ways to get everybody involved—cook together, sweep out the garage together, set the table together. And have fun while you’re doing it!

      Draw a land in the sand. The Amish want to be good stewards of God’s resources—time, money, material goods. They know that convenience comes with a cost. They don’t want to be dependent on outside sources (such as electricity or gas!). Convenience means loss of something valuable. For example, fast food means less nutrition. More stuff means more maintenance. They’re willing to say no.

      Amish proverb: “Things that steal our time are usually the easiest to do.”

      The Lesson: Technology has its limits. And technology isn’t all good. Evaluate purchases more thoughtfully. Think of where a purchase or an added expense will lead your family. More time together or less? More stress or less? Reframe your view of time and money and goods as God’s resources.

      Watch Your Words. The Amish continually stress the importance of filtering their speech.

      Amish proverb: “Words break no bones, but they can break hearts” and “Mincing your words makes it easier if you have to eat them later.”

      The Lesson: Say less. Prayer more.  

      Nothing replaces face-to-face visits. Back in the day when telephones emerged on the scene, the Amish bishops made a deliberate decision to keep the telephone out of the house. They didn’t want to interrupt family life. But they drop everything for a face-to-face visit.

      Amish proverb: “Use friendship as a drawing account, but don’t forget to make a deposit.”

      The Lesson: Nurture relationships by investing face-to-face time in them. No technology can substitute for the real thing.

      Honor the Sabbath. An Amish person would never think of working on a Sunday. But it’s more than that—they truly cherish their Sabbath. They spend time on Saturday to make Sunday a smooth and easy day.

      Amish proverb: “Many things I have tried to grasp and have lost. That which I have placed in God’s hands I still have.”

      The Lesson: Strive to make Sunday a different day than other days. A day of rest is important on so many levels—time to worship, time to reflect, time to re-energize. A re-charge your battery day.

      Suzanne Woods Fisher is a bestselling author of Amish fiction and non-fiction and the host of a weekly radio program called Amish Wisdom. Her most recent book, Amish Values for Your Family released in August. The Waiting is a finalist for a 2011 Christy Award. Amish Peace: Simple and Amish Proverbs were both finalists for the ECPA Book of the Year (2010, 2011). Her interest in the Amish began with her grandfather, W.D. Benedict, who was raised Plain. Suzanne has a great admiration for the Plain people and believes they provide wonderful examples to the world.  When Suzanne isn't writing or bragging to her friends about her first new grandbaby (!), she is raising puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. To Suzanne's way of thinking, you just can't take life too seriously when a puppy is tearing through your house with someone's underwear in its mouth. Keep up on Suzanne's latest news on Facebook, Twitter and on her blog!

      Thursday, September 15, 2011

      "fairer than morning" by rosslyn elliott

      About the Book:
      Will Hanby is an apprentice to saddle maker Jacob Good, a hard, demanding man. Just as Will is losing all hope for his future, he meets Samuel Miller and his daughter, Ann. Samuel is also a saddle maker, and he not only teaches Will to become a better saddler, but he teaches him to become a better man. When Will realizes he must escape from Master Good, he flees to the Millers' home in Ohio. Samuel is thrilled to see Will again--but will Ann be?

      My Take:
      Fairer Than Morning is one of those novels that you don't want to end. In the beginning, I wasn't too into it. (This is basically because of Ann--every man she met seemed to fall for her. That's not really a girl I can identify with!) But as Will's story progressed--through his horrible time with Master Good to his harrowing escape to his involvement with the Underground Railroad--I found that I couldn't stop reading! (I also began to like Ann--which is good, since the main romance was between Will and Ann.) Fairer Than Morning is much more than what the cover implies, and I'd argue that Will is actually the focus of the story, not Ann. Will is an incredibly believable character, and the abuse he faced at the hands of Master Good was heart wrenching. Will is the heart and soul of this story, and I can't wait for his family's journey to continue in book two!

      I give Fairer Than Morning 4-1/2 out of 5 stars. If you like historical fiction, you'll enjoy this book!

      ***Side note: Don't you just love the cover? True, it reflects Ann, not Will, but the cover is what made me want to read this book in the first place. And doesn't Ann look just like Rachael Leigh Cook?***

      About the Author:
      Rosslyn Elliott grew up in a military family and relocated so often that she attended nine schools before her high school graduation. With the help of excellent teachers, she qualified to attend Yale University, where she earned a BA in English and Theater. She worked in business and as a schoolteacher before returning to study at Emory University, where she earned a Ph.D. in English in 2006. Her study of American literature and history inspired her to pursue her lifelong dream of writing fiction. She lives in the Southwest, where she homeschools her daughter and teaches in children's ministry.

      For more about Rosslyn, visit her website:
      See what other bloggers are saying, read an excerpt, or buy your own copy.

      Giveaway Information: 
      To celebrate the release of her debut novel, Fairer Than MorningRosslyn Elliott is giving away two fabulous prize packages. The first is brand new KINDLE in her Fairer Than Morning Kindle Giveaway. Then on September 20th she's giving away a $200 gift certificate toward a Custom-Made Historical Reproduction Dress (from Recollections) during the Fairer Than Morning Book Club Chat Party on Facebook! Sigh...romantic.

      Fairer Than Morning is receiving wonderful reviews - Library Journal said, "A well-written historical series debut…". Read more reviews here.

      Be sure to join the fun and enter the Kindle contest - 

      One winner will receive:

      * Kindle with Wi-Fi

      * Fairer Than Morning (for Kindle)

      To enter just click one of the icons below. But, hurry, giveaway ends on 9/19. Winner will be announced on 9/20 at Rosslyn's Book Club Facebook Party. Details and official rules can be found when entering the contest.

      Then be sure to RSVP for Rosslyn's Facebook Party! During the party Rosslyn will be chatting with guests, hosting a book chat about Fairer Than Morning (don't worry if you haven't read the book yet - you could win a copy!) and historical fiction, testing your trivia skills. She'll also be giving away that $200 gift certificate toward a FABULOUS custom-made period dress from Recollections!

      Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter
      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, September 14, 2011

      why i love amazon: reason #4368

      Did you know that if you're a college student--as in enrolled in at least one course at any college in the United States--you qualify for a free Amazon Prime membership? You do need to have a .edu email address, but doesn't every college give those out these days?

      I am enrolled in school again (see 35 before 35 #20 ... yes, I'll post about it soon!), so I signed up for Prime today. It's a free 6-month membership, and if I choose to continue with Prime after that (which I don't anticipate right now, but I suppose I could change my mind), I can get a year for $39--that's half price! The one disappointment is that Prime videos are not included in the free subscription, but as I chose to keep Netflix streaming, I don't really need that service, anyway.

      Having Prime (which gives free 2-day shipping) could be a good thing or a bad thing. See, I never pay for shipping when I buy from Amazon. I just wait until I have $25 worth of products to buy, and then I use the free Super Saver Shipping. Here's the problem, though; sometimes I have something I really, really want (or need), it doesn't cost $25, and I don't want to (or can't) wait until I need something else. So instead of paying for shipping, I browse the dvd and book sections until I find something that will push my total to $25. This very thing happened to me last week, and I ended up buying the Tori Spelling movie Family Plan because it pushed me over $25. Do I like the movie? Yes. Back when I had cable, did I have a strange compulsion to watch it every time The Hallmark Channel ran it? Yes. Was it on sale? Yes. Did I need it? No.

      The way I see it, Prime will be a nice service that could save me money. No longer will I be worrying about how to get an order up to $25, but I also may be more likely to click "buy" on something I don't really need because I don't "have" to make a $25 order.

      Also, it's worth noting that Amazon Mom also has a free trial of Prime. And if you're not a parent or student, you can still try Prime free for one month.

      When you order from Amazon, do you feel compelled to order enough to qualify for free shipping, or do you figure it's better to just get what you need and pay a little extra for shipping?

      Monday, September 12, 2011

      "beside still waters" by tricia goyer

      I think this may be the first book review I've written that I didn't have to write!

      Marianna Sommer's birth is intertwined with death--on the night she was born, her two older sisters died in an accident. She has spent her life trying to follow the rules of the Ordnung to the letter in an effort to lessen her parents' pain--pain that was exacerbated when her brother decided not to be baptized into the Amish church. When her father moves their family from their Amish community in Indiana to a small town in northern Montana, Marianna encounters a new world--one where Amish and Englischer live in friendship and harmony, one where her parents finally seem happy, and one where she meets people who seem to have a much more real relationship with God than she thought possible.

      While Amish fiction isn't my favorite genre, I've read my fair share. And while I've enjoyed most of the Amish books I've read (save this one), Beside Still Waters is the first one to stick with me beyond the final page. One of my biggest problems with most Amish fiction is that it paints the Amish lifestyle as idyllic. Everyone (or most everyone) loves God above all else. Those who leave the faith do so because they're running from God and family. Sometimes (as in the book I didn't enjoy), outsiders even become Amish because that lifestyle allows them to fully worship God. So I appreciated that Goyer presented the Amish (at least the community the Sommers family came from) as rigid, imperfect, and legalistic. Those in the Montana community had a much more vital relationship with God--and they were regarded by the Indiana Amish as progressive and liberal. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Marianna's struggle to reconcile what she had been taught with what she learned in Montana, and I loved the transformation that took place in both her life and her father's life as they learned to let go of the past and embrace a loving Heavenly Father.

      I purchased Beside Still Waters because I'll soon be reading and reviewing the second book in the series, Along Wooded Paths, which picks up right where this book ends. I'm so glad I read it, and I can't wait for my copy of Along Wooded Paths to arrive! If you'd like to read a sample of this book, go here.

      Sunday, September 11, 2011

      "treasuring emma" by kathleen fuller

      When Emma's mother dies--two short years after Emma's father's death--Emma finds herself at odds with her sister Clara, who thinks they should turn the workshop on the family property into a yarn store. Then, suddenly, Adam--the only man Emma has ever loved--returns to Middlefield, and a visiting relative of Clara's husband Peter also shows interest in her. As Emma tries to understand her feelings and deal with her sister, she learns what it means to truly rely on God.

      I've read and reviewed several other Kathleen Fuller novels, but Treasuring Emma just may be my favorite. I think it's because this book deals more with family dynamics than romance (though romance is still a major part of it). I absolutely loathed Emma's sister Clara for most of the book--she was incredibly controlling, unappreciative of her husband, and conniving--and I wondered if Fuller would be able to redeem her. She did, and the Clara-Peter story line turned out to be one of my favorites. A few characters from Fuller's "Hearts of Middlefield" series make cameo appearances in Treasuring Emma, and it was fun to check in with them again. The story ends in a way that nicely sets up a second book, and I can't wait to read it!

      Who should read it? Fans of Amish books, Christian romance, or family drama.

      Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze book review bloggers program. 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."

      the end of an era?

      My parents have attended the Kansas State Fair every year since 1981-- when I was three weeks old, and Mom carried me around in a front pack. I never missed a fair until college, and then I only missed twice before beginning a new eight-year streak. That streak may be over now, though. See, we always went to the fair with my grandparents. Once they stopped going, we still went and stayed at their house. But my grandma died last Christmas, and her house is on the verge of selling. Once it does, we won't have any place to say--or really a reason to go down to Kansas. So it's possible that today's trip to the Kansas State Fair was our last. Just in case, I decided to document it through photos.

      We had to get the fried cheese curds--it's become something of a tradition for Mom and me! (I looked for fried butter for the 35 before 35 project, but I didn't see any.)

      Every year, Turkey Hill sets up a tent where they give away ice cream samples. This year's ice cream was Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup. Yummy!

      I've recently discovered I like almonds. Or maybe "love" is a better word. So I splurged on these cinnamon sugar covered almonds. Muy delicioso!

      We had to ride on Ye Old Mill one more time. This year, it was actually kind of scary!

      When we went into the Domestic Arts building, we saw they were giving away SPAM sandwiches. I thoroughly enjoyed mine ... but Steph refused to try one.

      Steph tried out the Mix-N-Match slushy booth.
      If this was our last Kansas State Fair, it was a great way to go out!

      Saturday, September 10, 2011

      35 before 35: #23

      #23: Go to a country concert

      This goal isn't one I would have had five years ago ... or even last year, for that matter! I have rather recently become a fan of country music. So when I heard The Band Perry was coming to the Nebraska State Fair, I decided to go. And I knew exactly who to take with me--my friend Joanna. Jo is at least partially responsible for my conversion to country (though most of the credit goes to former roomie Melissa). One night, Jo and I watched country music videos for hours after I confessed that I kind of enjoyed them. Anyway, Jo and I decided to go together. The problem? Jo is a senior in high school, and she has volleyball practice after school. So we didn't get on the road to Grand Island until 6:45, and the concert started at 7:30.

      Once we arrived at the state fairgrounds, we hightailed it over to the Events Center. We weren't even sure if we'd be able to get in, as the concert was free with gate admission, but you had to have a wristband to get in--and those were given out at the box office on a first come-first served basis. We arrived at 7:35, and a nice lady handed us our wristbands. When we walked in, the band was already playing, and the arena looked full. Jo has good eyes, though, and she found us seats ... pretty much as far away from the stage as you could get!

      Going in, I knew two of The Band Perry's songs--"If I Die Young" and "You Lie." Going out, I still only knew those two songs, but I heard several others that I really liked! If I didn't have Spotify (which I talked about here), I totally would have bought their album by now.

      My favorite part of the concert was when they started singing the Eminem/Rihanna song "Love the Way You Lie." At first, Jo and I just looked at each other ... and then we got it! They used it as a very effective lead-in to "The Way You Lie."

      Here we are at the concert ... sort of. I took about 10 pictures of us, and one of us always looked bad--so I spliced together two pictures. Notice that I've never claimed to be a Photoshop whiz!
      Overall, it was a great way to get my feet wet in the country music scene! Next stop, Carrie Underwood???

      Friday, September 9, 2011

      35 things before 35

      Recently, I came across a "30 Things To Do Before I Turn 30" post on another blog. Obviously, I missed the boat on that one, so I decided to make a list of 35 things to do before I turn 35. These are things I haven't done before (or at least I hadn't done before my 30th birthday last month). Here we go!
      1. bungee jump
      2. make a quilt
      3. get married
      4. go to a spa
      5. visit Prince Edward Island
      6. try fried butter
      7. take a cruise to Alaska
      8. have a child (biological/adopted/step)
      9. appear on TV
      10. write a novel I can be proud of (whether or not it ever gets published)
      11. go to Europe
      12. release 35 pounds*
      13. take my dad to a Cubs game
      14. go to a dc Talk concert**
      15. buy a house (fulfilled 8-2-13—see post)
      16. watch the full series run of Friday Night Lights***
      17. get a house cat (fulfilled 8-3-13—see post)
      18. visit Maine
      19. take a pottery class
      20. go back to school**** (fulfilled Fall 2011—see post)
      21. serve on a jury*****
      22. have a frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity 3
      23. go to a country concert (fulfilled 8-26-11—see post)
      24. learn how to make cheese
      25. get a job in a library
      26. go to the top of the Empire State Building
      27. get a massage
      28. grow my own herbs
      29. take a cross country road trip
      30. read the Bible from cover to cover
      31. go to Australia
      32. write something on this blog that gets picked up/linked to by a well respected website or blogger
      33. attend a showtunes night at a piano bar
      34. be a camp counselor
      35. go to a Nebraska-Ohio State football game (fulfilled 10-8-11—see post)

      *This is how Sandi Patty talked about losing weight at Women of Faith. It makes sense--if you lose something, you want to find it again. When I release 35 pounds, I will never want to find that weight again!

      **Yes, I'm well aware that dc Talk broke up a good 10 years ago. Should they ever go on a reunion tour (and they should), I would pay insane amounts of money and travel a ridiculous distance to see them.

      ***I watched the pilot. Twice. And I was incredibly bored both times. But I hear that it gets a lot better as it goes along (though I've also heard that season two gets a little terrible), so I think I should give it another shot.

      ****Technically, I've already gone "back to school"--I took a semester off before beginning college, so when I started, you could consider it "going back." But I think it still counts--I want to go back again!

      *****Ever since I learned what a jury was, I've wanted to serve on one. Strange, I know.

      Wednesday, September 7, 2011

      "forbidden" by ted dekker and tosca lee

      By the 26th century, humanity has lived in peace for nearly 500 years, thanks to a virus that erased all human emotion save fear. Rom Sebastian, a young man living in the world’s capital city Byzantium, lives a low-key existence as an artisan—until an old man accosts him on the street, giving him a coded vellum and a vial of blood. When the man is brutally murdered, Rom realizes he possesses something that will put him, as well as those he cares about, in danger. As he seeks answers, Rom discovers that the blood restores life—emotions—and the entire population is living as though dead. While Rom searches for the truth, others are equally desperate to keep that truth under wraps.

      Ted Dekker’s Circle series took the Christian fiction world by storm, and The Books of Mortals should do the same. Dekker and co-author Tosca Lee have crafted a fascinating story that is guaranteed to make you think, gasp, and yearn for more. Dekker’s work has long explored the importance of blood, and Forbidden carries on that theme. I'm intrigued to see where Dekker and Lee will go next.

      Those familiar with Dekker’s other works know already, but it bears repeating: blood and gore, while not gratuitous, do feature prominently in Dekker’s writing. Forbidden is not for the squeamish, though it’s no more graphic than a PG-13 action movie or an episode of Bones.

      If you enjoyed Immanuel’s Veins or the Circle series, Forbidden is the book you've been waiting for. And when you finish reading it (not long after you started, since it's one of those "can't put down" books), you'll most likely join me in counting down the months until book two, Mortal, releases!

      Click here to watch the book trailer or preview the book below.
      Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Hachette Book Group through NetGalley. 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.”

      Monday, September 5, 2011

      "blue skies tomorrow" by sarah sundin

      When Helen Carlisle's husband is killed in World War II, she inwardly rejoices. Outwardly, however, she dutifully plays the role of the grieving widow--so that her young son, her in-laws, and the town will see her husband as a hero. After her husband has been gone for a year, Helen's father-in-law gives her permission to date again. She immediately begins seeing Lt. Raymond Novak, and their relationship progresses quickly--until one horrible night when everything falls to pieces. In the aftermath, Helen moves in with her in-laws, and Ray goes into combat. Not only is their love tested by the separation, but they both find themselves in situations for which they are ill prepared. If their love stands a chance, both Helen and Ray will have to face their demons and rely on God for strength.

      Blue Skies Tomorrow is officially my favorite read of the summer! Captivating from the first page, it is also extremely thought provoking. I made the mistake of reading it on the way to church, and I ended up thinking about it throughout the sermon! The characters jumped off the page, and I ached for Helen (while simultaneously wanting to shake some sense into her). Author Sarah Sundin seamlessly weaved a heavy, timely plot into a fascinating WWII adventure story. Perhaps this is premature (as this is the first Sundin book I've read), but I'm going to go ahead and dub Sarah Sundin the historical fiction version of Karen Kingsbury. Yes, this book is that good!

      Should you read it? Absolutely--without a doubt! Seriously, go buy it now!

      About the author:
      Sarah Sundin received the 2011 Writer of the Year Award from the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, and her second novel A Memory Between Us is a finalist for an Inspirational Readers' Choice Award. Her stories are inspired by her great-uncle who flew with the U.S. Eighth Air Force in England during World War II.

      Sarah lives in California with her husband and three children. Visit with Sarah online at

      To celebrate the release of Blue Skies Tomorrow, the final installment of the Wings of Glory series, Sarah is giving one lucky winner A Vintage Kindle Prize Package! 

      Read what the reviewers are saying here.

      One winner will receive:

      * Kindle with Wi-Fi

      * Handmade vintage apron for you and a friend (see a photo here)

      * Blue Skies Tomorrow (for Kindle)

      To enter just click one of the icons below. But, hurry, giveaway ends on 9/10. Winner will be announced on 9/12 at Sarah Sundin's blog. Details and official rules can be found when entering the contest.

      Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter
      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."

      Friday, September 2, 2011

      a deal for your kindle

      You know I love telling you about books. (Eighty-three book reviews and counting!) You know I love Amazon.You may or may not know that Karen Kingsbury is my favorite author. So I'm especially excited to tell you about this deal: Right now, the Cody Gunner series--A Thousand Tomorrows and Just Beyond The Clouds--is currently available for your Kindle (or free Kindle app) for $1.99!

      Admittedly, A Thousand Tomorrows isn't my favorite Karen Kingsbury book (it may even be my least favorite), but a "bad" Kingsbury book is still better than most other books I've read! A Thousand Tomorrows is Cody and Ali's story. They meet and fall in love on the pro rodeo circuit, but tragedy awaits. Because it's been several years since I read the book, I can't remember what exactly I didn't like--except I do know I didn't like Ali very much. I also remember bawling like a baby at a pivotal moment, so Kingsbury still gets to my emotions even when I'm not enjoying the plot!

      Just Beyond the Clouds, though, is a different story. I really enjoyed this book, although I was hesitant to read it due to my negative reaction to its predecessor. This book picks up after (GIANT SPOILER ALERT!) Ali's death. It centers around Cody's brother, Carl Joseph. Carl Joseph has Down's Syndrome, and in the wake of Ali's death, Cody becomes incredibly overprotective. (Apparently Carl Joseph was also in A Thousand Tomorrows, but as I blocked nearly everything about the book, I didn't remember that when I read Just Beyond the Clouds.) Carl Joseph's teacher, Ellie, believes he should be independent, putting her at odds with Cody. There's also a wonderful subplot involving Carl Joseph's love life. This is a book that I highly recommend!

      Here's the deal: $1.99 for a Karen Kingsbury book is amazing. $1.99 for two? Fantastic! If I didn't already own Just Beyond the Clouds (and have this thing about owning physical copies of Kingsbury's books), I would buy these books in an instant! Even if you find that you, like me, don't really enjoy A Thousand Tomorrows, Just Beyond the Clouds will more than make up for it. Enjoy!