Blue stained wood with crimson carnations

Friday, August 5, 2016

Book Review: The Golden Braid

Melanie Dickerson is another new author for me and though I have seen her around in the book catalogs I’ve never picked up any of her books until now. The Golden Braid is a retelling of the Rapunzel story and this book has an amazing and striking cover showcasing the heroine in vibrant rich colors! I was immediately drawn to it! Reading up on this book a little I also learned that it is a young adult (YA) story, it’s been a while since I reviewed one of those- and since the last YA I reviewed was set in this time period  I was eager to dig into this one and see how they compared.

The Rapunzel story has been told and retold many times but this retelling has been very thoughtfully and carefully told. In short an evil mother keeps her daughter locked away in a tower where no one will ever see her great beauty or hear her beautiful voice. She is rescued by a handsome prince who breaches her prison by climbing her long hair. In this story there are great twists on the story from beginning to end! The story begins long before Rapunzel is locked in the tower- Rapunzel is eager to learn how to read and has dreams for her future, her mother is legit paranoid insane, and the prince turns out to be a grumpy but handsome knight! The extra twist on Rapunzel’s story is a great one that I don’t want to spoil but I will say I was pleased with it and it set things up for a really cool and satisfying ending!

In the beginning part of this book things sometimes seemed to be repetitious with facts gone over again and again but I don’t know if a teen reader would necessarily notice that and as the book progresses it does get better and begins bringing in new details and storylines. I really liked how there were several morals that were woven throughout the story including that of healthy relationships between both parent and child and between guys and girls. Sir Gerek was a true hero who demonstrated his dedication to his vows and acted honorably towards Rapunzel. There is a romantic element to the story, and yes, even some kissing and unchaperoned travel but through it all nothing felt it was ‘off’ or inappropriate to the characters and their ages (Rapunzel is 19 and Sir Gerek 23). This was something that was really nice to see in a YA book and I was pleased that the author balanced romance and purity well. Other themes were forgiveness, patience, and timing, and these were all well woven through the story and never felt like the reader was being bombarded with a religious or moral message.

As a side note, some retellings of Rapunzel have been questionable to me as they have presented a picture of joyful consequence free teenage rebellion but I didn’t feel this was the case in this book. This Rapunzel is a young woman of legal age and she only leaves her mother’s side when her mother’s madness takes a turn from bad to worse and Rapunzel’s safety is threatened. I felt it marked an appropriate time for her to move on and taught the reader about taking the right kind of actions for personal safety.

In the end, The Golden Braid was a great novel and I enjoyed it as much as I think a YA reader would! I would recommend it to any of the teen girls that I know!

Final Rating: 4.5

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Happy Planning for a Happy Girl

Well ladies a few days ago I re-posted an article on Facebook that was giving a few short points about why to buy a Happy Planner. It got some interest and I had already been thinking about doing a review of it on the blog here so a few snapshots later here we are! Prepare yourselves for a flood of love for my favorite planner!

Welcome to the Happy Planner!

What is a Happy Planner you say? 

Well the Happy Planner is the relatively new planner (two years old, I think) put out by MAMBI, or if you were a scrapbooker back in the day, you might recognise them more readily as Me & My Big Ideas.  

Front and back of the planner
This is what the front and back of the planner look like. The cover is very sturdy and is laminated. The Happy Planner comes in many different styles and it's a lot of fun to head over to their website and check out each of them. MAMBI has done a great job of letting you get a thorough look through with a short video of each design!
The Happy Planner operates off of the disk-bound binding system. Each sheet of paper that goes into the planner is punched with a notch and easily pops on to the disk ring. At first I was really unsure about how this system would work and was worried that I would be loosing pages or that things wouldn't stay together but that hasn't been the case- every thing has stayed neatly in the binding without any problems- a delightful surprise! Let me tell you why: CUSTOMIZATION! With no 'permanent' binding each page goes in and comes out as you wish it. There are three reasons why this is a good thing.
  1. Want to put in a sheet of notepaper or a list to write groceries on in it goes! 
  2. Want to take out your pages- to write on them, decorate them, or just move stuff around- you can! And it's not a hassle either. 
  3. Goodies. Accessories. Every variety of happiness that you can think of can be added in- but I'll get to that in a minute! :)   
Inside cover and added front folder
When you open the cover This is the inside page where you can add your contact info in case your planner should wander off without you. You will notice also that on the left is a pocket. That is one of our goodies and is an add in. The pockets are very sturdy and come in a multi-pack so you have several designs to choose from and can use multiple pockets if you want. In my planner I have one in the front and one in the back. The pockets are big enough to hold a half sheet of printer paper so I have easily stashed handouts, flyers, and class notes in these guys without a problem!

Monthly laminated-tabbed dividers 
Here's a quick look at the monthly dividers. Each Happy Planner has a different design theme on the inside. The planner I chose last year has a very graphic style topography that I love.  

Getting it Down

Monthly planning layout
Ok now here's where we start getting down to the nitty gritty of the actual planning. At  the end of every month there is this monthly review sheet. Happy planners have two different styles for this page and this is my favorite version. This is where as the month goes on I start prepping for the next month. There is spots for birthday's, goals, and for all the important stuff that I always forget. :) Overall I kinda use this spot for setting all my big vision goals for the month and it gives me a single spot to go to and check when I need to see what my month looks like.

The month view with side notes section
When you flip over into your month you have this great layout of a full month view. The boxes in this are roughly 1 1/2 inch square so you have lots of room to write! There is also a sidebar for notes.

The week view with side notes section
Okay, not here is probably my favorite part of the Happy Planner- BOXES. I love boxes. Usually it's a bad thing to be 'inside the box' but when it comes to planning it is a very good thing! This is what makes my head happy and my mind at rest because this is where clarity and ease of use come in. Each day is divided into morning/afternoon/evening sections so I can section off my day and know even if I don't accomplish certain tasks as certain hours that IT'S OKAY and I just need to do it within the block of time. This vertical style is a mental lifesaver for me. The HP is also now in a horizontal style layout so if you aren't a box girl they've got you covered too!  

NOW, something that you will start to notice here is that there are a lot of colors on that page! 

So I have a confession:

I am a colored pen junkie. 

I like them for a lot of reasons (one of which is that it helps me to like my handwriting) but in this context I like them because I am able to color code. At the beginning of the year I got me a stash of Paper-Mate Flair pens (which don't bleed through the pages) and assigned each area of my life/responsibility/job a different color so I could see different events from each other and to also see where I was spending/not spending my time. 

You may call this super over-organized. I prefer to think I'm super cool. ;)   

Puttin' on the Glitz

My entire 'planner stash'. It all fits into one small cookie tin and one small pen holder. 

As soon as you begin to look up planners online one of the main things that you will encounter is how to decorate your planner. Everybody has a style, and there are an endless list of opinions as to how to decorate. A lot of people choose to cover their boxes in the week view with stickers and/or scrapbooking paper. To be frank, I'm really not into this style as I feel it makes the whole planner unuseable. 
I am not, however, opposed to decoration in moderation! I love using MAMBI's quote sticker packs to add an inspirational note to the beginning of my week layout; or an extra motivational punch to special days! You can also utilize washi tape in doing simple border designs, and blocking off special days or events.

One of my favorite add-ons for the planner are the snap-in tabs. These tabs are a sturdy plastic punched to fit into the rings of the planner and have a strip of adhesive along one side. This means that you can add in anything and everything you want to personalize your planner! In the picture I have attached it to a strip of HP sticky notes so I can keep them close at hand when I need to add a little reminder in somewhere! With these tabs you can add everything from a card with a Bible verse or quote, to a picture, to the ticket stubs from last week's special event with your family. Anything is possible! 

There are a lot of reasons that we buy a planner. 

We want to stay on track and organized with our time, we want to look forward to the future, we want to remember the past and look back on it in pleasure. I have a stack of old planners in my room, basic black, simple, flat, uninteresting, unremarkable. They indeed hold the details of my past days and show the kind of life that I have lived in starkly printed lines. The thing is that my life isn't stark, or routine, or basic. My life is vivid and full of action, color, and design! For me the Happy Planner reflects the creative part of me and how I want to remember both myself and my days. The Happy Planner helps me to grab hold of my days and plan them to the fullest- and that makes me one happy girl! 

Clockwise from top left: Martha Stewart Home Office note pad, HP magnetic bookmarks, homemade bookmark listing how I divide my color coding, weekly inspirational sticker on my weekly view. 

Where to Purchase

  • Many Sam's and Cosco's are now carrying bundled kits! Check your local store! 

Book Review: Restore My Soul

With today being National Coloring Book Day I thought it was time to get this review up!

Well unless you have been living the life of a hermit I'm sure you have noticed that in the last two years the coloring book craze has majorly taken off! Books of every size and description are available everywhere from the supermarket check-out aisle, to the local craft store, and are seen in spades at the big box bookstores.

It's a craze that I don't think is going anywhere any time soon- and I think that's great news!

I have always been a fan of crafting for relaxation and coloring books for adults provide a great outlet for you to unwind and destress without needing a lot of fuss and muss.

Restore My Soul by Ann-Margret Hovsepian is the newest addition to the world of inspirational coloring and is a lovely one at that! This 10x10 inch book boasts about 80 pages of coloring delights. The unique thing about this book is that it's not just a coloring book but it's one that is paired with devotionals too! For every coloring page there is a devotional page opposite it for meditation and reflection.

The devotionals in this book are really nice with a verse at the beginning and a passage that you can read in a few minutes to give you a little bit to think about for the day.
The illustrations in this book are really nice too and have lots of different styles of drawing, enough to keep you busy picking and choosing for a while!

w/colored pencil 

w/colored pencil

w/Distress Crayons

w/Distress Crayons- after watercoloring 

For me I really like designs that have lots of open room like the above 'Celebrate Today' page or the 'Fruit of the Spirit' page and I had fun coloring those because I could finish a page in a reasonable amount of time. Many of the other pages though are much more detailed and even after spending hours on them I still have never finished them. Detailed pages aren't necessarily a bad thing, the problem with them for me was that continually coming back to the same devotional reading and that frustrated me. I think it would be better to have illustrations that were easier to accomplish in a shorter amount of time.

Overall I thought this was a good Christian coloring book and I feel like many people would enjoy working through it!

Final Rating: 4

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book Review: Whispers in the Reading Room

Hello Dear Readers! Today I am reviewing a fabulous looking new book from author Shelley Grey, Whispers in the Reading Room! I love the cover of this book, it drew me in right away and made me want to know what mystery I was going to uncover inside!
Our heroine is Lydia Bancroft, the librarian for a small reading room in Chicago after the World’s Fair. Lydia loves her little domain of books, helping others love reading, and reading about the faraway places and adventures that she will never experience in person. Having fallen drastically in fortune after her father’s death her mother is doing all in her power to make an advantageous society match for Lydia and restore their fortune and social standing, though willing to help her mother the only way she knows how Lydia would really love to be left to the solace of her books!
When the quiet and mysterious library patron Sebastian Marks comes to Lydia’s rescue one day the two of them begin a whirlwind friendship that knocks Lydia off her feet with his attentions and kindness- and finds her wishing that there might be more than friendship between them. When Lydia finds out that Sebastian is the owner of a notorious underground gambling saloon in the worst part of town she must decide who he really is, who she can trust, and how any relationship between them can survive.
From the first moments of opening this book I was sure I was going to love it- and I did! Whispers in the Reading Room is a zippy read with a smart and resourceful heroine in Lydia. She is someone who has curiosity about the world around her and dreams about what it would be like to be the heroine in one of the books she reads. She is someone who is both a compassionate dutiful daughter and someone who knows her own value. Sebastian is an interesting and different hero who comes from a rough-and-tumble background and has raised himself to prosperity and sophistication through his love of reading.
I found the word play between the two book lovers a delicious treat for a fellow bibliophile and I liked the language banter between them. I even found myself laughing out loud at their discussion of Austen’s Emma as I too would agree with Sebastian’s opinion! J  I really loved the author’s writing style too and I as a read through I found myself delighted as I haven’t enjoyed a turn of phrase so much in ages!  Shelley Grey is a new author to me and this is the first of her books that I have read but I can’t wait to go and pick up the other two books she’s written under the “A Chicago World’s Fair Mystery” banner!

Overall, this book is a fast paced fun read. Sometimes the relationship between Lydia and Sebastian moves quickly in this novel but I didn’t find it out of place, it just reflected the fast pace of the swinging city. I didn’t find any big red flags in this content wise, many of the scenes take place in Sebastian’s world, which is far from propriety, but nothing was overdone or gratuitous. Whispers reminded me of any number of old black and white films. In fact, though the settings are a bit different, this book really reminded me of the Judy Garland movie The Harvey Girls! Whispers in the Reading Room will be a great weekend read for anyone! In fact, I dare you to try and put it down! 

Final Rating: 4.5 

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Book Review: The Girl From the Train

Well dear readers, I have to admit that it took a little getting into to begin this book but now that I dedicated some time to beginning afresh I have to tell you that I wizzed through this book in a day’s time! I simply couldn’t put it down!

The Girl From the Train by Irma Joubert is a book with a bit of an unusual history. Originally published in South Africa, and then the Netherlands, it became a best seller in both countries! Now it has again been translated, into English this time, and is being published through Thomas Nelson.
Beginning in Poland during the height of the Second World War we meet little six year old German-Jewish Gertl Schmidt and are drawn along into her life story. Gertl is orphaned, family-less, homeless, and hopeless- until she comes into the life of Jakob Kowalski who fights for Poland with the Home Army and against all forces- German or Russian- that want to destroy his beloved homeland. Gertl and Jakob form a strong bond- the kind that can only be forged in the intensity of bombs, and blood, and the pain of relentless nightmares.

In time Jakob and his family can no longer safely care for Gertl in the politically turbulent Poland so he is forced to send her where she can be better cared for, and eventually have a chance at a new life as an adopted war orphan in South Africa.

I was really kind of blown away by this book! Through reading it I realized even on a subject I thought I had thoroughly covered there is still so much about WWII that I do not know and so much I need to learn. Many times historical fiction that is written on this era is told from the point of view of an American or a Brit, having this story told from the eyes of a person who is in the very center of the conflict packs a huge emotional punch. For example, there is a moment early on in the book where knowledge and book hungry Gertl has been studying an atlas and is trying to identify nearby markers and towns but the thing she searched for, Auschwitz, wasn’t on the map. I have to tell you that one small line, one small detail, was like being doused in cold water.

The beauty of this book is in the small details. The storytelling style reminded me (from what I remember) of the Little House series. The style is not elaborate or embellished but is simply related in honestly told truths. In Gertl’s younger years many of her personal observations come off as stark or abrupt but it is simply the nature of a child who has seen and experienced things beyond her years. In time this matures into a special kind of warmth and magnetism as Gertl, now Afrikkans Grietjie Neethling, becomes a young woman.

I am known for loving books that have well drawn detailed descriptions- for a girl who grew up on George MacDonald it’s no wonder really. It’s the quality of those descriptions and what they end up conveying however that are the important part. So often writing can go from in-depth to long-winded in the space of a few words, but that is not the case here. In The Girl From the Train so much is said in so few words- and the effect is very powerfully touching. 

On the ‘warnings’ side of things readers should be aware that there maybe a few instances of objectionable material depending on their comfort level with wartime violence or romantic scenes. There is two times that profanity occurs and while I don’t condone that it’s not gratuitous or out of place for the context of the setting. This book also explores the two faiths of Catholicism and Protestantism and does a good job of relating why those faiths are different even while respecting the sincerely held beliefs of both. One little nitpick was that I very much wished the publisher had included some type of glossary at the end for help in pronouncing some of the eastern-European and Afrikkans names and places. I confess I felt rather stupid bumbling through them and wished I could say them properly!

I would highly recommend this book as being the next thing you should read! I was taken in from cover to cover and feel as if I read something worthwhile for my time. It is a book that I know will be driving me to dive back into world history- and left me very satisfied with Grietjie’s new beginnings in the end.

Final Rating: 5

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Book Review: Reservations for Two

Being the restaurant chef person that I am I was really eager to get a hold of this book and review it. I thought the premise of Reservation for Two by Hillary Manton Lodge to be a nice and refreshing one. Amongst all the bonnet novels- Amish and otherwise- and the other historicals on the market I was ready for a contemporary novel set in the food world!

I requested and began this book not realizing it was book two of a series, something I avoid like the plague as I find it difficult to come into a cast of pre-established characters and backstory and not feel lost and uncomfortable but I decided to just give it a go.

From the first the reader is dropped, literally into the middle, of a conversation that feels as if it’s been directly carried over and picked up right where it was left in the first book. It was off putting, frankly, and I struggled to figure out what was going on and what I had missed from the first book. It is clear in the first few chapters that the main character, Juliette, has been undertaking a great adventure as she searches for clues to her grandmother’s past but it was hard to figure out what was going on and who all the people were beyond that. Without the back of the book I would not have been able to figure out anything.

Another reason I struggled with this book is that I found the writing style to be a rather odd one. I consider myself a person who has read widely and enjoys a variety of literary styles but this I did not enjoy. This I found unreadably choppy and really missing a lot of the trimmings that makes a text pleasant to read.

In the end I will confess that I did not finish this book. After a certain point I simply began flipping and skimming till the end.  It’s a fact that galls me to admit as I’ve sat through a number of truly horrid novels and forced myself to finish them word by word, but with this every paragraph was a losing battle.   

In the end I won’t recommend this book. Not because I found something terribly wrong with it but because it just wasn’t my style. Perhaps for others it might be. Perhaps if it had been the first volume it would have had a chance. 

Final Review: 1.5 

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Book Review: Irish Meadows

I have had a terrible time in sitting to review this book.

In all honesty I was finished with it a good six or seven months ago but since then it has sat in my review stack as some horrible pariah that I haven’t been able to purge. And I assure you I have tried! Multiple times I have sat to review this and simply gotten tied up two or so paragraphs in unable to sort out the heart of this story or what to say about it.

At the beginning I thought this was a book that I would very much enjoy. The setting is a horse farm in 1911 Long Island and the background of the family is Irish- and who doesn’t love a good strong Irishwoman on a quest? Brianna’s quest is to attend collage but her father’s vision is to marry her and her sister off and quick to the richest man he can find in order to infuse the farm with badly needed cash. Needless to say their wills clash like the climax of The 1812 Overture.  To complicate matters her childhood best friend Gilbert is at war with himself over pursuing her hand or striking out to make his own name in horse farming.

Then there is Brianna’s older sister Colleen, a frivolous scheming incorrigible flirt determined to be the ruin of herself and her family. As punishment for a particularly egregious scheme Colleen is sent to work with orphans in the big city under the watchful care of straight-from-Ireland distant cousin and soon to be priest Rylan. And what’s a reforming bad girl to do but fall in love with a priest?

Readers, if this seems like the beginnings of a complicated plot I assure you that I have only scratched the surface!! This book goes from jam-packed to ridiculously drawn out and twisted with every passing chapter. I began with liking one sister and hating the other and by the end of the book had completely flipped my opinion on them. It was like one grew and matured as the other devolved and regressed into completely absurd childishness! The respective beaus didn’t help matters either and in both cases willingly compromised their beliefs in order to get what they wanted. Any extraneous angst over their decisions was overdone and sadly disingenuous. To top things off the girl’s father never stops bullying whoever is in his reach to do his bidding- no matter who gets hurt. I am frankly sick to death of the overbearing tyrant father trope; there is any number of other ways to put people into pickles then to malign fathers in a culture that does quite enough of that already. 

Overall I couldn’t have been less impressed with a cast of characters than I was with these- and considering I started out loving them for the first third of the book that seems a great feat.  
Throughout this book I found the Spiritual content sadly lacking.  This book comes from a strongly Catholic viewpoint and I found myself wondering why the author felt the need to go that direction when surely there are just as many Irish Protestants as there are Catholic’s? When writing for a Christian publishing house one would have thought the author would have considered this. Beyond that I found the Spiritual counsel that Ryland gives to be doctrinally unsound.

For the above reasons mentioned, and many more that I could list, I cannot recommend this book. I forced myself to read through to the end and finish it to see if the end would be any better than the middle but it wasn’t, and any book that makes you want to fling it across the room out of disgust for the stupidity and childishness of the characters just isn’t worth reading.

And that’s the end of it. 

Final Rating: 1.5

I have been given a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.