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BLISS, a new way to celebrate birth

Watch out Baby Showers!  You've got some competition.

Watch out Baby Showers! You’ve got some competition.

No, I’m not pregnant!  (That ship has sailed.) But I’m still of the age where I have lots of pregnant friends.  I have my go-to baby gifts.  I have my stock set up congratulations cards and sentiments.

All those things seem a big haggard after reading Bliss: A guide to unique gift giving for the expectant mom, by Hava Skovron.

Skovron has created a new tradition for expectant mothers which she calls BLISS.  The idea is to start in month three, and then celebrate pregnancy with a new gift every month.  Each month gets a new theme; kind of like wedding anniversaries.

Month 3 = Paper

Month 4 = Lotion

Month 5 = Cotton

Month 6 = Photo

Month 7 = Wood

Month 8 = Silver

Month 9 = Food

The BLISS gifts can be as humble or expensive as your budget dictates.  A paper gift could be a homemade gift card or a spa certificate.  A wood gift could be a simple picture frame or a brand new crib.

Cool idea, right?  The book contains hundreds of ideas for each month.  There are also suggestions for how to organize a BLISS giving group, and how to deal with adoption.

Here’s the sad part.  I read this book today while still grieving over my friends’ loss of their newborn baby.  So all of Skovron’s ideas had added meaning for me.

A pregnancy after miscarriage or infant loss is/would be very scary.  BLISS gifts could be a great way to help a hopeful mom through her fear.  Instead of having a baby shower, you could follow BLISS and send comforting gifts for the mother instead.

Paper could be a note of encouragement.  Lotion could be hand cream.  Cotton could be a set of soft pillowcases for a good night’s sleep.  All the gifts could offer encouragement and understanding.

I really love this idea of BLISS.  Thank you Hava Skorvorn for your creativity, and for giving me a complimentary copy of your book so that I could review it.

Chasing Francis, Review

My latest Booksneeze book is Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale, by Ian Morgan Cron.  I received a free copy of this book, in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

I’ve never read any of Cron’s work before, but he is also the author of Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir. . . of Sorts.  He is an Episcopal priest and a doctoral candidate studying Christian spirituality at Fordham University.

Chasing Francis is a hybrid of sorts.  It’s the fictional story of a big-box evangelical pastor in the middle of a spiritual crisis.  Woven into the pastor’s narrative, is the true story of St. Francis of Assisi, as well as some fun arm-chair touring of Italy.

This is a VERY funny book.  Cron is extremely witty, but he’s also a deep thinker.  I also view him as a “peace maker” as opposed to a “peace lover” because Chasing Francis builds a very strong bridge between evangelical protestants and Catholics.

I’m giving this book five stars on Amazon because I really loved it.  But I thought I’d close my review with my own thoughts about Assisi.

When I went to Italy as a 19-year-old, I was truly shocked.  Assisi blew me away with it’s consumerism and decadence.  Everyone seemed to be trying to make some $ off of St. Francis.

Here’s a picture from my album:


I remember thinking, “Would St. Francis really want this gigantic cathedral?”  It seemed to me as a young 19-year-old, to be everything St. Francis was against.

My trip was back before the days of normal people owning digital cameras, so I don’t have any more pictures; just memories.  But as I recall, inside the cathedral there was a lot of painted gold.

Yeah, because St. Francis loved gold.  (Not!)

I was hoping that Cron would address some of that sentiment in Chasing Francis, but he really didn’t.  I understand why, because it’s not really kosher for a Protestant to criticize a Catholic in a book that’s trying to mend fences.

But even after so many years later, I’m still wondering what St. Francis would say if he could see the cathedral that’s named after him.

Or actually, I wonder what St. Francis would do…

I review for BookSneeze®

Sweet Mercy, by Ann Tatlock

Looking for a tame book for your teenager?  “Sweet Mercy” by Ann Tatlock would definitely fit the bill.  It’s a gentle coming of age book set in the Prohibition era.  FYI: this books is published by Bethany House, so there is a religious element going throughout the book.

The main character, Eve, is very self-righteous.  When she comes to help out at her uncle’s Lodge in Ohio, she thinks she knows everything. But pretty soon Eve starts learning that world isn’t black and white, and that there are lots of gray areas that are difficult to navigate.  Sometimes the right path, isn’t so easy to discern.

The only thing that bugged me about the book (spoiler alert!) is that at the end, Eve gives up her dream of going to college to become a pastor’s wife.

In my opinion Christian authors need to be very careful about the message they send to young girls, especially with this whole “Quiverfull Movement” out there.  Why did Ann Tatlock have to throw that zinger in there at the end?

It wouldn’t have changed the story at all to have allowed Eve to go to college; it would have made the narrative stronger.  It probably also helps pastors out a lot to have an educated spouse.

But college issues aside, this is still a great book.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

Grief in the PNW

“North of Hope” by Shannon Huffam Polson, is a book about grief set in the Pacific Northwest.  It tells the story of Shannon’s rafting journey in Alaska, roughly one year after her father and step-mother were killed by a bear along the same route.

Right off the bat the plot-line should tell you that this isn’t exactly a “fun” read.  But I was hoping it would be enlightening.

On that count, it was and it wasn’t.

My main issue with this memoir is that Shannon herself comes across as very self-absorbed and self-righteous.  I feel bad even saying that, because I’m sure that in real life that isn’t true one bit!

But the story line implied that Shannon’s way of grieving was the right way of grieving, that nobody else in her entire family could possibly be hurting as much as she was hurting, and that the only glimmer of happiness Shannon felt all year was when other people acknowledged her severe grief.

For example, she flips out when somebody suggests taking a picture at her father’s funeral.  There is a HUGE amount of judgment in this scene, even though in many families, it is perfectly okay to take pictures at funerals, and is in fact encouraged; especially if relatives are traveling long distances (like to Alaska!) and rarely see one another.  But the author never seems to consider other people’s point of view.

Everyone grieves in different ways.  I don’t think one way of grieving is better or worse than another.  I kept waiting and waiting for Shannon to come to this realization too in this book, but she never did.  That’s what made her come across as unlikeable.  Her view seems to be the only view she considers worth exploring.

I’m sure in real life, none of that is true, and that Shannon Polson is a perfectly lovely person to be around.  So I’m guessing that she was trying to make the point that grief and depression can really change your personality.

P.S: I received a copy of “North of Hope” from Booksneeze, in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

American Phoneix, by Jane Hampton Cook

American Phonenix, John Quincy and Louisa Adams, the War of 1812, and the Exile that Saved American Independence by Jane Hampton Cook is a weighty look at a first lady and president who are often forgotten.  It is meticulously researched, includes a lot of interesting detail, and really fills you in on what it was like to live and travel abroad in the 1800s.

The part about this book that really bogged me down however, was the writing style.  Cook seems to be emulating the flowery diction of the 19th century.  I felt like I should play a drinking game every time she used the word “recreate”.

The author also put in a lot of unnecessary wondering.  “Perhaps Louis was wearing….  She might have been thinking…  She was probably familiar with….”  Those aren’t direct quotes, but rather indications of the general gist of how the book goes.

There are a lot of history books that I love and then pass on to my father in law.  This book isn’t one of them.  Mainly because of the flowery style, but also because I kept wishing the author would get to the point.

But on the plus side, I 100% believe the author knows her stuff.  Kudos to Jane Hampton Cook for the tremendous amount of research she put into this book.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

Unrivaled, by Siri Mitchell

Unrivaled, by Siri Mitchell, really made me smile.

The basic plot is that in 1910 a young woman named Lucy comes back home from Europe and finds her family’s candy making business in shambles.  She could either marry her way out of it (like her mother wants), or become a young businesswoman and turn that candy business around.  Booyah! 

Unrivaled reminded me so much of everything I loved about Bethany House as a teenager.  There’s history, romance, and a determined female character all rolled into one.

387 pages and every one of them rated G!  But Siri Mitchell managed to tell a compelling story without any vice whatsoever.  That’s pretty amazing.

I am definitely adding this book to my collection of novels I can turn my daughter loose on someday.  I might even read it again myself, just for fun.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

Literacy, Boys and Scouting

Get Boys to Read with Boys Life!

Get Boys to Read with Boys Life!

Do you want your son to read?

Well so does the Boy Scouts of America!  That’s why I was really excited to read about their new Literacy Matters campaign in the 2013 May/June issue of Scouting magazine.  You can check it out online right here.

Since I was a Girl Scout, I never got to read Boys’ Life magazine growing up.  (Now I realize where all of my husband’s jokes come from.)

It turns out that Boys’ Life is just one of many ways that the BSA is supporting literacy.  Troop meetings, pack meetings, and camping trips can all be opportunities to encourage boys to read.  Volunteers can encourage a love of reading by modeling their own love of books.

As Michael Gurian mentions in the article, so much media attention gets focused on girls falling behind in math and science, that people are forgetting that there is a 10% literacy gap for boys.

I’ve seen this when I used to be a teacher.  Third grade seems to be when some boys really start falling behind.  But the good news is that if you catch that problem in time, you can still turn boys into bibliophiles.

Here are some of my favorite books that can help get boys to read.

I’m going to add Boys’ Life to that list!

A Dream So Big, by Steve Peifer

Steve Peifer and Gregg Lewis’s book A Dream So Big, Our Unlikely Journey to End the Tears of Hunger is my new favorite book and I haven’t even finished reading it yet.

Have you ever read Tracy Kidder’s book Mountains Beyond Mountains about Dr. Paul Farmer’s work in Haiti?  A Dream So Big is in that league.

Once you read A Dream So Big, you will never be the same.

Steve and Nancy Peifer are missionaries in Kenya, but A Dream So Big is not about an American family from Texas going to Africa to convert people.  It is the story of modern Kenya itself, and the thousands of challenges Kenyan nationals face each day.  It is also the story about how we can’t call ourselves human, and ignore what is happening in Africa.

There were many passages in the book that were so moving that I read them aloud to my eight-year-old son.  One example of this, is about how excited hospitalized children were to see a concrete floor, because they had never seen a floor before.  Another part was about school children who couldn’t pay attention in class on Thursday, because their last meal was on Monday.

It is those children who inspired the Peifer’s to found Kenya Kids Can, which provides one meal a day to over 18,000 Kenyan school children.  They purchase food through the local markets, so it’s not disruptive to the local economy.  They also convert shipping containers into solar powered computer classrooms.  Steve Peifer was awarded the CNN Heroes Award in 207 for his work.

A Dream So Big is deeply moving, but it is also funny too.  It’s a book that can make you laugh on one page, and cry on the next.  

At the very end of this book is a page about what Americans can do to help.  I was so encouraged to read that one of their suggestions was to share this book on blogs and social media platforms.  I can at least do that!

I received a free copy of A Dream So Big from Booksneeze in exchange for my honest opinions and review.  But I’m going to be purchasing it in the future many, many times.  I feel like I want to give it to every person I know.

I review for BookSneeze®

Love No Matter What, by Brenda Garrison

Love No Matter What by Brenda Garrison is a Christian parenting book that goes against the genre in a radical way.  Instead of promising that A + B = C, she says that sometimes parents can do everything right and that their kids might still turn out mixed up, screwed up, or worse.

I think that’s a really powerful message.  Your kids’ choices are not your choices.  Just because your kids are on a roller coaster of emotions doesn’t mean you’re on the roller coaster too.

But here’s why I’m giving this book a 2.

It’s all about Garrison’s definition of what the wrong path is.  Specifically, it is the example she uses of a daughter named Andrea  who “chooses to follow a lesbian lifestyle”.  Garrison praises her parents for continuing to love Andrea and refusing to ever meet her girlfriend.

This made me so upset that I decided to wait a week before I wrote this review so that I could calm down.

My message is directly to Andrea.

Andrea, I am member of the United Methodist Church.  I believe God made you exactly how you were meant to be made.  You were made in God’s image, just like me.

I want you to know that there are leaders in my church who are not just praying for you, but fighting for you too.  We are heartbroken that your parents and so many members of the Christian community continue to hurt you.  We will continue to speak up on your behalf for as long as it takes.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Booksneeze, in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

Shattered, by Dani Pettrey

I received a free copy of Shattered  by Dani Pettrey, from Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

Shattered is a fun read.  It tells the story of a family in Alaska that is trying to prove the innocence of one of their own.

Some of the things I liked about the book was that Dani Pettrey does a good job portraying strong women.  All of her female characters are independent thinkers and central parts to the action.

What I found annoying about the book was that almost every reference to premarital sex involved rape, murder, or late-term miscarriage. I understand that this book is written for a Christian audience, but come on, we’re not idiots!

That being said, I am going to tuck this book away for when my own daughter becomes a teenager someday…  😉

Unglued, a review

I received a free copy of Unglued Devotional: 60 Days of Imperfect Progress by Lysa TerKeurst from Booksneeze in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I almost didn’t order this book because I had a lot of previously conceived notions about devotionals in general.  Often times they seem to think for you, tell you how to pray, share stories of questionable authenticity, or just plain be written for old ladies.  I’d much rather read the Bible and think for myself.  (How very Methodist of me!)

So I was really surprised when I started reading UngluedIt’s refreshingly modern and very relevant. 

For the purposed of this review, I read ahead through the whole book in its entirety.  Now I’m going back and reading the sections one at a time.

I love how there’s a thought for each day.  I’m trying to keep that thought in my mind.  Here’s an example from today, Day 6:

“How we react is a crucial gauge of what’s really going on inside us.”  (p 26)

See what I mean?  Pretty cool, and not old-ladyish at all!

I review for BookSneeze®

Stumbling on Open Ground

I just finished reading Stumbling on Open Ground by Ken Mansfield last night.  I received a free copy of this book from Booksneeze, in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I really wanted to like this book at lot.

Ken Mansfield shares his Job-like story of living with not one, but two cancers.  That’s a pretty darn amazing story.  Especially when you consider that Ken Mansfield is the former US manger of the Beatles’ Apple Record company.

The problem was, that the narrative was unclear.  I felt like I was in my car at a stop sign and the car next to me was playing a really good tune on the radio.  The melody was there, but I just couldn’t fully access it.

For example, in one scene a doctor is telling Ken that he needs to go home and get his affairs in order because he is going to die.  In the next scene, his wife is saying that they left for Hawaii and the cancer didn’t act up after all.”  What???  Don’t leave me hanging!  I wanted to hear more details of how that went down.

Instead, I felt kind of lost.

I review for BookSneeze®

The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant

I was interested in reading The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant by Terry Felber because it has a foreword written by Dave Ramsey.  I’m not a huge Dave Ramsey fan, but am familiar with his approach to debt-free living.

Dave Ramsey is so passionate about The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant, that it is required reading for every single person who works for his company.  That’s a pretty big endorsement.

This book is written in two parts.  The first half is a mildly interesting story about a business owner from Venice.  The story is supposed to teach financial truths through fiction.

The second half of the book is a study guide  that mashes up scripture, Dave Ramsey, and the guy from Rich Dad/Poor Dad.  There was a lot of common sense advice, including one of my favorite John Wesley quotes of all times: “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”

The best thing about this book is its brevity.

P.S. I got a free copy of this book from Booksneeze in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

Chocolate-Covered Baloney, Confessions of April Grace, by KD McCrite

Chocolate-Covered Baloney (The Confessions of April Grace) is a novel for middle grade audiences, that the author KD McCrite has chosen to set in the 1980s.  It is one of the tamest MG books I have read in a long time.  For example, April’s family receiving crank phone calls is considered a BIG DEAL.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was the author’s use of voice.  Even the chapter titles were funny to read: “Myra Sue’s Room: The Pit of the World”, “Almost a Civil War in Our Very Own Kitchen”, etc.  McCrite’s use of voice totally had me convinced that I was reading the inner musings of a tween growing up in Arkansas.

In addition to April Grace, the other characters in the book were equally well developed.   Of course, as a member of the United Methodist Church, I’m a bit biased towards loving the scenes with Grandma’s gentlemen friend, a Methodist minister!

When it comes to plot, that’s where McCrite lost me.  The most incendiary thing that happened within the first few chapters was that April Grace caught her sister Myra Sue at the mailbox removing a package she intended to mail.  That really wasn’t enough to hook my interest.  I kept reading because the characters were engaging, but the action didn’t really seem to get going until the final chapters.

I also question the whole construct of placing the novel in the 1980s.  I’m not sure my nieces and nephews would know what “The Cosby Show” was, or care.    The whole concept of soap operas too, might be over their heads.

It’s entirely possible though, that a large part of the April Grace audience is moms reading with their daughters (I don’t know.)  As an adult reader, it was fun to read these pop culture references.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Booksneeze in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

When Your Parent Becomes your Child

When Your Parent Becomes Your Child by Ken Abraham is a book about losing a loved one to Dementia. But it is more than that. It would not be hyperbole to say that the author Ken Abraham has written his heart in book format.

His words were an honor to read.

This is one of those books that you can’t put down. It’s one of those books that make you feel like you know the author and that you should call him up right now. Don’t worry, I won’t! But I felt like the very spirit of his mother was living for me in those pages. It was a privilege to meet her.

I’ve read several books about Alzheimers, but none about Dementia. Mr. Abraham’s mother suffered from Dementia brought upon by a series of mini strokes. Lots of embarrassing and heart wrenching things happened to her due to her disease. It probably took a lot of courage for all of her sons to give their brother the go ahead to write this book. So I would like to say thank you to your entire family for sharing this story.

If I could give this book six stars I would. But if I had one criticism it would be that I think the family is too hard on itself. In the beginning of the book there is a lot of “If we only had realized….In hindsight etc.” As an outsider looking in it seems to me that each family member had a different piece of the puzzle. A son in Tennessee knew “A”. A daughter-in-law in Florida knew “B”. A neighbor in Pennsylvania knew “C”. If you put all of those puzzle pieces together sure, you might have recognized what was happening a whole lot earlier. It’s not your fault that you couldn’t. That happens a lot with aging loved ones and the family members who try to take care of them.

But maybe by sharing your story it will help young people like me know what to look for when it becomes our turn to be the sandwich generation.

Thank you for your courage.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Booksneeze in exchange for my honest opinions and reviews.

I review for BookSneeze®