Monday, August 11, 2014

The Reluctant Detective by Martha Ockley

This is the second Faith Morgan Mystery I've read but this particular installment was actually the first written.  I didn't have too much trouble jumping in with the second book, The Advent of Murder but The Reluctant Detective provides the reader with a bit more of the background on Faith's life.

The book opens with Faith (former policewoman turned vicar) visiting a small parish in Little Worthy in the area where she had grown up.  Crime has a way of following this unlikely vicar and not surprisingly she witnesses the death of the current vicar--right in the middle of the communion service.  Being on the scene, she steps in to help and as she was about to start CPR, she notices an odd appearance and odor around the victim's mouth. Suspecting murder, she has the police summoned. And who should show up but a former boyfriend (just a little awkward).

Her natural curiosity keeps her interested in helping solve the case but she's also trying to balance her interim responsibilities of helping plan for the previous vicar's funeral, trying to understand and counsel the prodigal son in his grief, keep up with deanery meetings and avoid spending too much time with the former boyfriend assigned to the case.  In the interim, Martha is staying with her sister which has its own challenges.

The mystery is a light-hearted look at some of the ups and downs of parish life. Martha is sort of a cross between Agatha Christie's sleuthing Miss Marple and Jan Karon's caring Father Tim from the Mitford series.  Life in the village isn't always what it seems and there is a lot of grief and sorrow running just below the surface of so many lives.

I will say that the author does drop enough clues that an attentive reader will most likely figure out the suspect before the end.  Still the reader will hit a surprise or two along the way.  A nice contemporary version of the classic English cozy--making a great companion at the beach, on a trip or for a rainy day inside.

The best way to figure out if this book is for you is to read an excerpt.  Both The Reluctant Detective and The Advent of Murder can be purchased directly from Kregel Publications.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of The Reluctant Detective for the purpose of review. A positive review was not required and no other compensation was received.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Trolley Car Family

We recently finished reading out loud the book, The Trolley Car Family by Eleanor Clymer.  What an utterly beautiful and refreshing read!  A book about the Parker family working together and overcoming adversities without fighting, complaining or rebellion. Almost unthinkable!

The father of the family, Mr. Parker, is a Trolley car operator but he's learned the bad news that he'll be out of a job.  As the family discusses their options, they settle on the idea of living in a trolley car for the summer.  They plan to ride the car to the end of the line where they will then haul the trolley car by horse to its resting place. They discover a barn, a spring, and very friendly neighbors (with kids to boot!).  They even manage to coax their bachelor neighbor, Mr. Jeffreys, to take a vacation from his milk route to vacation with them for a week or two. He grudgingly agrees and even lets the Parkers store their furniture in an unused barn at his place so they can vacate the house they had been renting.

Imagine setting up a home for the summer in a trolley car.  By removing some of the seats, they created a kitchen area, a sleeping area for the Parkers and a space just for Mr. Jeffreys.  Over time, they added a porch and some other improvements.

Money is tight and their future is uncertain but with patience, help from neighbors and a bit of creative ingenuity, the Parkers show that families that stick together will make it through even the toughest of times. Lots of wholesome fun in this sweet book!

Used copies are available from Amazon.  Grab yours and enjoy a refreshing look at a simpler time.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Petit Collage by Lorena Siminovich

I may be one of the few people who had never heard of Lorena Siminovich or her company "Petit Collage." I had not seen or read any of her blog before receiving the book so this title was my first introduction to her creative genius. Read more about author Lorena Siminovich.

First Impressions
When I first opened the package, there was of course the thrill of putting your hands on a brand-spanking new, hot off the press book (I haven't yet outgrown that feeling and I'm 45). The bright cover with a sneak peak at several of the projects waiting inside were an immediate sell.  I love that the blue strip with title is glossy and creates a nice contrast to the matte finish of the rest of the cover. Peeked inside and LOVED the interior decorative paper (not your normal boring white endpapers!).

The whole book is a visual treat. The initial pages have a very nice introduction to the author, an explanation of what tools and supplies will be used in the book. And not just a list but a visual depiction of each item--much more interesting and clears up any confusion on what to have on hand.  Also an explanation of the guide indicating the level of difficulty for each project.

Content Review
The book is a compilation of 25 projects of varying difficulty: easy, intermediate and advanced.  Most projects used supplies that a moderately crafty person may already have in their home.  Anyone living near decent shopping should be able to readily find what they don't already own.

Each project was laid out sort of like a good recipe: ingredients listed first and then the directions for putting it all together. I loved the fact that the projects show level of difficulty, had a personal bit of info about the background of the project, showed multiple photos of examples. Helpful sketches were included where needed.

Sprinkled throughout, the author also has various tips.  Some include alternatives to change things up for seasonal use or suggestions for substitution if you don't have the exact supply listed.  I also liked that many projects also had a way to complete the project with children.

Section 1 "Room to Grow" is full of ideas for adorning a child's space with a name plaque, baby mobile, growth chart, jazzed up toy bin and 6 other adorable projects.  Section 2, "Family Life" has clever ideas for the whole family: coat rack, memory box, family memo board and 5 others. The last section, "Playtime" has 7 ideas for unique and hand-made things to entertain your young person.  My presonal favorite was the portable dollhouse.

In this world of instant and ready-made, I love the idea of creating--either with or for your child--inviting spaces and toys that will foster additional creativity.  I appreciate the suggestions for ways that children can make some of these projects or assist with them and have a chance to feel the satisfaction of having created something special for their own space.

The back of the book included some further explanation of techniques such as decoupage or working with wood and metal. This is followed by a resource guide--very helpful for those who may not live near craft shops--for some online retailers. She also has projects listed in back with suggestions for where to find items for that project.  This is then followed by a section with templates for copying.  The template indicates what size to enlarge the image. It would be really nice if a CD were included instead for the templates because it isn't always easy to get a hardback book flat enough for copying.  The book closes out with an index although with so many bright and colorful pictures, it's not hard to flip through and find the project you are interested in.

All in all, I heartily recommend this book to all levels of crafters.  With projects for babies on up, this would make a great gift for just about anyone.  I'm excited about using up some of my insanely copious craft stash on some very cute items for decorating and play.

This idea-packed, full color hardcover treasure is available to purchase from Random House for $24.99.

Happy Crafting!

Disclaimer: I received this book free from Blogging for Books for the purpose of review.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Heroes and Heroines of the Past (American History Curriculum)

Amy Puetz has a passion for history and this curriculum is an outpouring of that love.  I first became acquainted with Amy through her Heroines of the Past newsletters.You can sign up for that free at her website.  Amy is a master of finding and sharing historical gems from the past in her ezine.  And her American History curriculum is another example of her efforts to make history exciting and accessible to young students.

There are so many things that make this curriculum unique among history programs.  First of all, everything you need is right at your fingertips. The main text is divided into two volumes (you can do one each semester) which makes for a very manageable book to read from and tote around.  Volume 1 covers year 1000 to 1837 and Volume 2 covers 1837 to the present. Overall, there are 30 chapters which is nice if you use a shorter school year. If however, your school runs for 36 weeks, you can stretch out some weeks with the additional resources and the recommended reading.  Trust me, there is way more suggested than you will ever possibly accomplish!

Amy has created a comprehensive program that incorporates ideas for timeline study, geography study, writing, as well as drama and music.  The latter two make this curriculum especially unique because drama helps bring the stories alive and the music helps bring alive the emotion and rhythm of the time period.

In summary, the things I loved most about this curriculum:
  • Main history text is split into two volumes (you could do one per semester or stretch out each volume over a year of study)
  • Materials CD makes it super easy to print off materials for students (no wrangling with the book trying to make copies)
  • Historical Skits adds a creative and hands-on facet to the curriculum
  • Each day's reading has a simplified/condensed option for younger students as well as a more complete selection for older students
  • A  history program that you can use with your whole family--could be adapted with some research or additional reading for even older students
  • Full of illustrations
  • Incorporates historical biographies
  • Music to sing and/or play selections from that time period
  • Includes comprehension questions (with answers in back for convenience)
  • Inclusion of recipes and games from the time period
  • Some sections have a suggested verse to memorize as a family
  • Lots of maps for reference right within the text so you aren't having to flip back and forth to figure out where events are taking place
  • Art studies are sprinkled throughout showing paintings depicting historical events
  • Includes reprints of writings near the time period discussed
  • CD with speeches from history (no trying to hunt things down yourself!)
There is so much included in this curriculum that you will most likely not be able to do it all but it's nice to have all the ideas at your fingertips to pick and choose those activities you want to explore. Or take the whole pace slower and just tackle one volume in one school year. It's obvious how much Amy loves history and how much she wants to share and inspire young people with the stories of the great leaders who were part of the founding of America.

The American History bundle is available for $98.99 and  includes:
  • Heroes and Heroines of the Past: American History Part 1 
  • Heroes and Heroines of the Past: American History Part 2
  • Historical Skits book 
  • Additional Materials CD (not pictured above)
  • Sing Some History CD 
  • Listen to Some US History MP3 CD
A coloring book is also available for $9.99 and available here.  Visit the website to read and listen to samples from the curriculum bundle.  

You can purchase the bundle at the author's website:  Keep up with Amy's happenings and future projects on her Facebook page.

If you will be attending the Homeschool Iowa Conference in Des Moines, IA May 15-17, stop by the Golden Prairie Press booth to meet Amy in person and see her curriculum for yourself. She has lots of other neat historical resources your family will love.

Take some time to explore her website. She has so many wonderful treasures including:
In the 13 years I have been homeschooling, I have looked through many materials on American History and this is by far the most comprehensive, enthusiastic study that encompasses all of a child's heart, mind and soul.  Your whole family will be blessed by this curriculum!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this curriculum in exchange for some editing work.  A review was not required but I was so excited about Amy's materials, that I wanted to help promote it through this review.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Defy the Night by Heather Munn and Lydia Munn

Defy the Night is set in the year 1941 in France and continues the story begun in How Huge the Night. The country is feeling the effects of war with food rations and much scarcity.  At fifteen years old, Magali wants to do something of importance.  She doesn't want to to be stuck in a stuffy schoolroom studying; she wants to be out making a difference.

Enter Paquerette who has been bringing refugee children from the internment camp, Rivesaltes. Some have been orphaned and others have been voluntarily given up by parents hoping their children might survive in a better place. The work is grueling and endless--so many children needing so much care.  Magali admires and idolizes Paquerette and really wants to help with the work.

Reluctantly, Magali's parents permit her to go on one mission with no promises that she'll be able to continue. Magali returns and can't wait to go again but the reality is that she is too important at home. In her absence, her mother has been bedridden with migraines and Magali pouts over the injustice of having her plans derailed.

She strikes up a bargain with her father to finish her studies and help out her mother more at home and perhaps he will see that she is ready and capable of taking on more responsibility by helping Paquerette.  In spite of the long journey with often sick and crying babies, Magali wants to continue.  She did fully appreciating how real and present danger can be.  Magali learns some hard lessons about life--in the midst of war, foolish and immature actions can lead to tragic consequences.

This book was an incredible glimpse at the idealism and passion of some young women wanting to do what they could to save children's lives.  Exhibiting a maturity beyond their years, they learn about loyalty, self-sacrifice, and perhaps hardest of all, forgiveness.

One of the most moving books about WWII that I have read, I highly recommend it. The setting is based on the town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the many aid agencies whose mission was sheltering children (along with their mothers when possible).

Heather Munn shared the following photos related to the book:
                                                       Children in an internment camp.

                                                       Ruins of Rivesaltes camp today.

               View of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon (the real Tanieux, the town that rescued Jews.)

                                                Children in Le Chambon during the war.

So many wonderful lessons from the book included: families and community working together, sharing what little one has and finding a way to do one's part. May we all be inspired to die to self and help alleviate the suffering of others in any way we can.

Read an excerpt and then get your hands on a copy!  You can purchase this book directly from Kregel Publications in paperback for $14.99. If you'd like to start with the first book, that can be purchased here.

*****************ACT NOW--LIMITED SPECIAL************************************
On Monday, April 28, you can download the e-book FREE!!  From April 29-May 2, readers can download the e-book for the special price of  $1.99.  This is a very limited offer so make sure you tell friends and family about this wonderful opportunity!  Check it out here.
Heather Munn was also kind enough to offer a bit more background on the historical setting and events for Defy the Night. In her words:

So here's a brief primer on the big-picture facts: - When France was conquered by Germany in 1940, it was divided into two halves: the "occupied zone" in the north, where German troops were in charge, and the "free zone" in the south, where there was still a French government. - Magali lives in the "free zone," and the camps she travels to are also in the free zone. - The French government in charge of the free zone was known as the Vichy government (and the free zone is also known nowadays as Vichy France.) This government collaborated with the Germans and was under pressure from them but it did have some freedom and did some evil things on its own as well--because it was also racist in itself, believing that Jews and other foreigners were bad for France. - The internment camps in the free zone were set up and run by the Vichy government; this was their own idea. The Nazis were not in charge of this, though they must have approved. It was also the Vichy government that allowed aid workers into the camps and released children, because in its early stages it wanted to appear humane and/or there may have been some people in that government who still had some heart.
 - In the summer of 1942 (not long after the book ends) all the internees in the camps who were Jewish were given over to Germany at Hitler's demand and got sent to the death camps in Germany and Poland. The Vichy government also cooperated with the Nazis after that in arresting other Jewish people in France. The camps in France became transit camps, way-stations where people who had been arrested would be locked up for a brief time on their way to concentration camps in Germany and Poland. (There will be more about this in--Lord willing!--the third book in the series.)
I look forward to the next book that will continue this story. I think it is so important that our children learn about those before them who were courageous enough to "defy the night" and hopefully they will be inspired to find ways to defy darkness wherever they encounter it.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Defy the Night for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Susan K. Marlow's Goldtown Adventures

I was able to review books #3 and #4 of the Goldtown Adventures series by Susan K. Marlow.  I was familiar with some of her books for girls but had no idea she had books for boys--yahoo!  It's really hard to find books for 8-12 year olds that aren't brimming with violence and bad attitudes.  I'll share a summary of each book and then some general thoughts about the series.

Canyon of Danger #3
Jem Coulter has the chance at being "the man of the family" while his Pa escorts a prisoner. Jem takes his job seriously with unpredictable results.  Their livestock have been troubled by a wolf and Jem is determined to catch the culprit.  Unfortunately, he manages to "catch" something other than a wolf which sets into motion a whole cascade of troubles.  Will he ever get things turned right?  And will he manage to reclaim the family's stolen horse and his father's rifle?  I loved the portrayal of Jem and his family. I think both girls and boys will enjoy the sense of danger and uncertainty of not knowing who can be trusted.  I really enjoyed the historical flavor; young readers learn about the Pony Express through one of the characters.
Read an excerpt from book 3.

Here's what my 9 year old thought of the book:
"It was a great book. I enjoyed it very much. The book Canyon of Danger is a mystery and an adventure for Jem when his Pa leaves. It was just a great book!"

River of Peril #4
Jem and his family are on an important journey with their Pa traveling by stagecoach.  Danger in the form of bandits way lay them and the adventures begin. The bandits make off with a huge, heavy box of gold.  But as soon as the bandits are out of sight, the coach takes off with lightning speed before the bandits realize they've been tricked!

When they arrive at their destination (where the gold is to be transported), the ship hasn't arrived and Pa has to make arrangements for securing the gold.  Meanwhile Jem and his sister decide to do some exploring--with some dangerous results. While they are getting a tour of the boat from their new friend (the captain's son), they come face to face with the bandits who tried to rob their coach!  The bandits manage to capture of of them.  How will they make a rescue? How will  Pa keep the gold safe and is their new friend's father one of the bad guys?  How will they get themselves out of this mess?
Read an excerpt from book 4.

At the end of each book, the author includes historical notes explaining a bit more of the time period. I love how accessible history becomes through these great stories!  Marlow creates just enough suspense and feeling of danger without going too far--a very fine balance when writing for this age.  The author really creates an authentic feeling for the time and place that helps kids feel like they know just what it was like living in that time period.

One thing that I really appreciate about Marlow is the exceptional resources she has (both free and for sale) to accompany her books.  You can check out free study guides, or purchase a lapbook to allow your child to create a lasting souvenir from their reading adventure. Do you have a child who still enjoys a coloring book? The author has graciously provided her illustrations to be printed off for coloring.  How many authors do you know who have shared their work in such a way?  I remember when my daughter read the Andi Carter series and I printed off the illustrations for her to color--you would have thought it was Christmas! Those illustrations were treasured.  I look forward to printing off copies for the three whom I'll be reading these books to (a son and 2 daughters so this isn't just a series for boys).

Even though I had not read books 1 and 2 of the Goldtown Adventures, I had no problem "getting into" the story line and understanding the characters.  These books can stand alone but trust me--you'll want them all! They are a nice length for either reading aloud or reading independently.

I wish these books had been available when I was a child; but I'm so thrilled to be able to read these with my kids and hopefully I'll have some grandchildren to relive the adventures with as well!  To see Marlow's whole line of books, visit her website.

SPECIAL OFFER: April 15-19 you can purchase adventures #3 and #4 on ebook for only $1.99 each. Don't miss out!  More details here.

Disclaimer: I received free copies of Canyon of Danger and River of Peril from Kregel Publications for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

One Realm Beyond by Donita K. Paul

This was my first introduction to Donita K. Paul's work. I came into the book with only the brief summary from the publisher to entice me:
Cantor D’Ahma waited his whole life for this day. Born with a gift to jump between worlds, the young realm walker is finally ready to leave his elderly mentor and accept his role as protector and defender of the realms.
But mere hours after he steps through his first portal, Cantor discovers that his job will be more dangerous and difficult than he ever imagined. The realms are plagued with crime and cruelty, and even members of the once-noble Realm Walkers Guild can no longer be trusted. To make matters worse, his first assignment - finding a dragon to assist him on his quest---has led him to Bridger, who is clearly inept and won’t leave him alone.
With the help of his new friends Bixby and Dukmee, Cantor must uncover the secrets of the corrupt guild before they become too powerful to be stopped. But his skills aren’t progressing as fast as he would like, and as he finds himself deeper and deeper in the guild’s layers of deceit, Cantor struggles to determine where his true allegiance lies.
Cantor has recently been initiated into the world of the Realm Walkers. Life is a series of parallel worlds stacked like pancakes and periodically portals open between these worlds enabling the Realm Walkers to enter.  Once initiated and on their first journey, they are given the task of finding a dragon to partner with and also aligning themselves with comrades with whom to journey.

Within minutes of Cantor's arrival on his first journey, he sees a dragon.  But remembering his mentor's caution to not select the first dragon that crosses his path, he tries to ignore the creature. Somewhat of a bungling dragon, one can understand why Cantor wanted to find a better dragon.

Aside from finding a dragon companion, a realm walker is instructed to find a companion realm walker. Here too, Cantor just stumbles upon a very interesting young woman, Bixby, who possesses some interesting talents.  She helps him avoid capture by the ruling soldiers of the land.  And while they were in hiding, they overheard two men planning a mission to free their son who'd been forecefully taken into service.  Sounds like the perfect adventure to prove their worth as realm walkers and they boldly offer their services.

Thus begins a round of adventures (and some mishaps) that bring Cantor and Bixby into contact with Dukmee the healer who teaches Bixby some valuable new skills and in which Bridger proves that he can--on occasion-- be useful.

The realm walkers part paths for a time, with Bridger opting to accompany Bixby. It isn't long, however, before their paths cross again and Cantor realizes just how much he needs his new friends. Bridger also introduces Bixby to his sister dragon, Totobee-Rodolow--a fashion and jewel conscious dragon who enjoys shopping the markets as much as Bixby.  Seems like a match made by Primen [God] Himself.

This cobbled together team discovers a plot that will endanger the lives of many innocent people and they desperately need to free some friends who have been thrown into the dungeon.  This was an exciting tale but be prepared to be left hanging. The first of a trilogy, readers will be anxious to find out whether these novice realm walkers can bring order and justice back to a corrupt and twisted world.

It did take me awhile to get my mind around how the world in this book operates and the various giftings that people utilized (that probably has more to do with the fact that I haven't read a lot of dragon books). Paul does a really nice job of knitting together characters that are worth knowing and a story line with some good lessons about loyalty, faithfulness, and learning to use the unique gifts that the Creator gives each one of us.

Visit the author's website to learn more about this series and her other literary accomplishments.

Disclaimer: I received One Realm Beyond for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

I review for BookSneeze®