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Merlin’s Nightmare, by Robert Treskillard


Merlin’s Nightmare by Robert Treskillard is the third book in his Merlin Spiral series. (For my review of book #2, Merlin’s shadow, click here. )

The premise of Merlin’s Nightmare is that Arthur is now 18 and just discovering that he is the rightful heir to Britain. Merlin struggles to let his adopted son grow up and make decisions on his own–which might lead everyone to their doom.

Anyone familiar with Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory is going to be in for a shock!

Treskillard has taken the original cast of the Arturian legend and reshuffled it.  Morgana for example, is now Merlin’s sister.

For my part, I read this latest Treskillard installment and thought “Werewolves? He added werewolves?” But I’m not such a traditionalist that it bothered me. In fact, I really think the author has freshened the legends up. Arthur is ready for new YA fans.

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

I review for BookSneeze®

Merlin’s Shadow, by Robert Treskillard

I was expecting to be entertained–but not educated when I picked up the YA book Merlin’s Shadow by Robert Treskillard. Lucky for me I got both!

The premise of  Merlin’s Shadow is that Merlin, his fiancé, a baby Arthur, and a few Druid and Christian tagalongs, are on the run from the evil king Vortigern. Their only escape is to head north into the hands of the blue Picti.

This book is a real page-turner, but at the same time Treskillard weaves an extensive amount of Celtic history into his new interpretation of the Arthurian legends.

But (insert evil laughter), I can take Treskillard’s fascination with obscure history, and up the notch of nerdiness. This past fall I studied Celtic Christianity along with the rest of my local United Methodist church. One of the favorite books I read was Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Sprirtuality by J. Philip Newell.

Our Advent spiral from church.

Our Advent spiral, complete with harp music.

After the Romans left the British Isles, Celtic Christianity developed into it’s own culture, without interference from Rome. Whereas Roman Christians revered Peter and believed infants were inherently evil, Celtic Christians looked towards the apostle John and believed that God’s creation was naturally good, but that free will led to sin.

The famous Celtic Christian Pelagius, is either a heretic or a saint, depending upon whom you talk too. He encouraged women to read scripture and think about spiritual things.

The Iona Abbey in Scotland is still active, and people from all over the world travel there to learn about God and ancient spiritual practices that still have meaning today: praying while you work, blessing your children before they walk out the door, and enjoying nature.

If you take all of that history and put it side by side with Merlin’s Shadow, it becomes even more interesting. Treskillard is writing about a world right after the Romans left, when Celtic Christianity is just getting a foothold. Druids like Caygek, have their own sense of morality that will eventually be enveloped into the Celtic Christian church; the Earth is sacred because it is God’s creation.

I’m looking forward to reading the other two books in the Merlin’s Spiral series.

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

I review for BookSneeze®

The Daniel Cure, by Susan Gregory and Dr. Richard J. Bloomer

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Last week I read The Daniel Cure: The Daniel Fast Way to Vibrant Health by Susan Gregory and Dr. Richard J. Bloomer. I’ve been telling people about it every since.

The concept of the book is rooted in Daniel 1:11-13 and Daniel 10:2-3 when Daniel fasts, prays, and eats food from seeds. Susan Gregory came up with the idea of a 21 day modified fast based on these verses, where you eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds,and healthy fats. She called it “The Daniel Fast” and blogged about it here.

The Daniel Cure follows up with lots of science, sound nutritional information, recipes, a 21 day devotional, and some great charts to monitor your vitals.

None of this was new information to me, a green-smoothie-gluten-free- sometimes-vegan-regular exerciser, but I was impressed by how it was all laid out.

Basically, this is a book about following a bleeding heart liberal diet, written for the GOP. I could see a church lady in Texas reading this book and loving it, when maybe she never would have bought a book about being vegan. Brilliant!

Three weeks of clean eating combined with prayer and self-examination also sounds like a win-win idea.

It would be hard to follow the Daniel Fast and also be gluten-free, but the authors do talk about making modifications for people with allergies, food intolerances, and for women who are pregnant or nursing (p28).

I am definitely planning to try a 21 day Daniel Fast in the future. First I need to wean off of coffee. That’s easier said than done…

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

I review for BookSneeze®

Why Ian Morgan Cron will knock your socks off

Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir. . . of Sorts by Ian Morgan Cron had me laughing, crying and thinking for days. The only thing that’s bugging me is I can’t decide which of Cron’s books I like better.  A couple of weeks ago, I read and reviewed Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale, and it has stuck with me too.

“Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir…of Sorts” tells the story of what it was like for Cron to grow up the son of an alcoholic.  It’s also a look back at life Greenwich, Connecticut a generation ago, and how times have changed.

Cron’s remembrances of life as an altar boy had me in stiches.  The kindness and wisdom of Father Durcan had me in tears.

In many ways, Cron reminds me John Shelby Spong, (but I hope I don’t tick anyone off by saying that.)  Cron isn’t afraid to ask deep questions.  He’s not afraid to think.  He’s not intent on pegging God down and boxing God up into a neat and tidy definition.  (But I might be wrong…)

I got this book for free from Booksneeze in exchange for my honest opinions and review.  I look forward to reading many more books by Cron in the future.

I review for BookSneeze®

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:

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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®

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®

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®

The Money Smart Family System by Steve and Annette Economides

It is rare that any new book I read prompts me to fire up the word processor, and start making charts. But if you are familiar with “Teaching My Baby To Read” then you know that I love a good token economy system. That’s why The Money Smart Family System by Steve and Annette Economides really sparked my interest.

The bulk of the book is about priorities, prudence, and conveying your own financial values to your children. But the book kicks off with a complicated (but not that complicated) allowance system that goes beyond a mere chore chart. (Hence our new wall decor.) We are going to give this plan a trial run in the Bardsley household starting on Monday.  I’ll keep you posted on the results.

I really liked how this book did not come across as holier-than-thou. So many other financial planning entities out there tout themselves as the end-all, be-all of budgeting. Steven and Annette however, sprinkled their book with lots of shout-outs to other big names in the financial planning world. They even mentioned one of our favorite piggy banks, the Money Saving Pig.

The only criticism I had of the book would be that I think teenagers should have more money to spend on clothes (if you can afford it) than what the Economides suggest. Other than that, I was in almost complete agreement with everything they advised.

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

Jackson the Iron-Willed Commander

Get ready, because I am going to make all of my Tennessee ancestors roll in their graves. My opinions about Jackson The Iron-Willed Commander by Paul Vickery, which I received a free copy of from Booksneeze, would probably make most Tennessee folks upset.

The book itself is well written and informative. It follows a quick pace but still manages to educate. It is part of a series of books called “The Generals”, of which I have also read the volumes on Sherman and Pershing. So far, the whole series seems to be really dependable in terms of quality and educational value. They also are great books to give your father-in-law for Christmas, so keep that in mind if Grandpa is hard to shop for!

My issue with the Andrew Jackson book has nothing to do with the actual writing, but entirely to do with Andrew Jackson himself. I know it is tricky to judge past people by the standards or today, but whoa! I had no idea our former president was such a hot-head and rash decision maker. I do not find his actions in the Creek War to be brave and inspiring like the author Paul Vickery seems to suggest. I think that if anything, Andrew Jackson was guilty of conducting war crimes against humanity in his treatment of the Creek people. Then at the end of all of it, he betrayed the Creeks who were friendly to him by taking away half their land!

There was also an incident where one of his young soldiers named John Woods was really freaking out and disobeying orders, so Jackson had the young man executed quite quickly. Reading about this through my 2012 goggles, I can’t help but wonder if the young man had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

So there you go Tennessee ancestors. I totally disavow your hero. Thank goodness Old Hickory isn’t up for election today, because I would gladly take either Romney or Obamma over Andrew Jackson, any day of the year (or in any century).

I review for BookSneeze®

Momaholic

My latest foray into scraping out time for myself and actually reading for pleasure, has been Momaholic, Crazy Confessions of a Helicopter Parent by Dena Higley. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Booksneeze in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

Honestly, this has been the best Booksneeze book ever!!! It sounds trite, but I could not put this book down. I kept trying to sneak and read it when I was supposed to be making dinner. Then I caught my first grade son trying to sneak and read it, because he wanted to see what was so special about it. His report after reading a few pages: “I don’t see what the big deal is Mom. This book isn’t that good.” So sorry Dena. If you thought soap opera fans were tough, you haven’t met my seven year old.

I mention soap operas, because Dena Higley was the head writer for Days of Our Lives. She is also the mother of a college-age son who has Autism, a college-age daughter who did something unexpected, and two teenagers that she adopted. Dena was also a self-professed “helicopter parent” who obviously never read Parenting Teens with Love and Logic (at least until it was too late). She describes her book as a “how not-to story”.

What makes Momaholic so entertaining is Dena’s cleverness as a writer. She is funny, witty, relatable and makes observations that you or I might have thought in our head at one point, but never fully articulated. In short, she is everything that I want to be as a writer myself.

An example of Dena’s cleverness is an observation she made about picking her kids up from school, and how she so often sees mothers taking naps in their car while parked at the curb. But then fast forward to 10 PM that night when they really are supposed to be falling asleep, and they can’t because they are thinking of about a million things they have to do the next morning. (Okay, when I write that out it sounds rather dull, but when I read it in Momaholic it was hysterical.) It was insights like these that kept me hooked on this book even though I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent at all.

Another funny part was when she talked about her older son with Autism slipping in a funny line from the movies during a football game. We have a family member with ASD who does this all the time. A lot of his favorite lines come from his childhood Buzz Lightyear toy that my kids still play with today. “Hmmm… Very interesting. Adventure is my middle name.”

I’m not a soap opera viewer myself so I don’t know any of the juicy/gritty back-story as to why Dena lost her job at Days of Our Lives. She is such a good writer that I have no idea why the powers-that-be could not see this. But if she does decide to stay out of TV and write another book, then I know exactly what I want to read from her next. Thomas Nelson Publishers, please listen up!

Dena, I want you to write a book about parenting older children with Autism. There are lots of memoirs out there about parenting young children with Autism, but there aren’t many about making the transition to adulthood. You could spend a few chapters in the book discussing your own family’s situation, but then spend the rest of the book profiling other kids who have “made it” and the tremendous parenting that was involved. I know the perfect, not-so-perfect, ASD college student who you could devote a whole chapter to.  I wish he and your son Connor could be pen-pals.

Simply Grillilng by Jennifer Chandler

This weekend I’ve been cooking from Jennifer Chandler’s new book, Simply Grilling, which I received a complimentary copy of from Booksneeze in exchange for my honest opinions and review. If I could write just one word about this book it would be WOW!

If you are a fan of cookbooks with pictures then this book delivers with full color photographs of every recipe. If you are a fan of international cooking, then this book will take your dinner table to new realms. If you are a fan of easy recipes, then this book is for you. The instructions are simple and most ingredients can be found in your local supermarket.

I decided to give myself a jump-start on the week by spending a couple of hours on Saturday turning my refrigerator into my own deli counter by preparing three of the grilled salads and sides from Chandler’s book.

Asparagus and Cherry Tomato Salad from page 133

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad from page 145

Grilled Lime Sweet Potatoes from page 185

I also prepped for Chicken Drumsticks with Mustard BBQ Sauce (page 67) to make later this week, as well as Grilled Filets with Gremolata (page 95) to make tonight. Since it is 41 degrees outside and raining in sheets, I used my indoor grill pan without any problems. Everything tastes delicious and looks really healthy.

If I had one comment for the editors of this book it would be that in future editions I think you should annotate the Gluten Free recipes. By my estimation, almost all of these recipes are GF and many of them could be modified to be GF/CF as well. To a GF eater like me, that is a strong selling point of Simply Grilling that could be highlighted.