Blue stained wood with crimson carnations

Friday, November 28, 2014

Foodie Friday: Cranberry Ginger Upside-Down Cake

It has been a seriously long time since I posted any thing up here for a 'Foodie Friday' and this week I  thought that the turning of the seasons and all the upcoming Christmas preparations would be the perfect time to change all that!

If cranberries are something that are relegated to your Thanksgiving table then its time to change that too! Bring the Cranberries to the front and center of your holiday dessert table with this delicious Cranberry Ginger Upside-Down Cake!

One of my favorite fruits are cranberries so I was really excited to find and get to try this recipe. I was happy to find this recipe really works- the cake is dense and moist with a tender crumb, the top layer of cranberries is bright and flavorful without being overpowering or soggy, and the cranberry jam that sandwiches in between the layers is sticky and sweet and richly red- the whole thing just begs to be eaten! Top it off with a dollop of freshly whipped ginger cream and you have a sure winner!

This recipe was originally found over on Food52's blog but I thought the instructions were very poorly written and confusing so I will be sharing my rewritten version here instead. I hope you enjoy both the process and the final product as much as me and my family did!

Cranberry Ginger Upside-Down Cake

For the jam filling

1 cup cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 T. fresh grated ginger
1/2 cup raspberry jam or preserves

In a small heavy bottomed saucepan combine all the ingredients
and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir frequently. When mixture boils the berries will begin to pop their skins, and the mixture will gradually thicken. Once the berries are all fairly mashed and the mixture is thick remove from the heat and add the raspberry jam. Stir to combine and set aside in the fridge for later.

For the cake

2 cups AP flour (all-purpose)
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

6 T. sugar
6 T. water
2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup toasted chopped hazelnuts
3 T. candied ginger, chopped fine

1 cup butter, soft
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla
2/3 cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease (with crisco) and flour two 9 inch round baking tins and set aside.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and set to the side.

Combine the 6 tablespoons each of sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil stirring constantly. When the mixture boils remove it from the heat and pour it evenly over the bottom of one of the prepared cake pans being careful not to touch the hot mixture and to spread it all the way to the edges. Sprinkle the sugar syrup evenly with the cranberries, then the nuts and ginger and smooth as necessary. Set aside.

In a stand mixer or with a hand beater mix the 1 cup of butter with the brown sugar. Beat this on medium speed for 3 minutes, the mixture will be light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla.
Reduce speed and add 1/2 of the dry ingredients mixing until just combined. Add the milk and beat till combined and then add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix till just combined. The batter will be thick.

Spoon about half of the cake batter over the top of the prepared cranberries and nuts pan and half into the second plain cake pan. The pan with the cranberries will take a bit less  batter as it has fruit in it already, just add this to the other pan, they don't have to be exactly even. Smooth the tops with a spatula and then give the pans a firm couple of taps on the counter top to settle the batter down into the pans.

Bake for 40 minutes carefully rotating the pans halfway through so they bake evenly. Cakes are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, (remember though that the cranberry pan will be wetter so test the plain cake first). When the cakes come out of the oven, use a blunt knife to loosen the sides of both cakes. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. After that time loosen the cakes again and turn out the plain cake onto the cooling rack. Invert the cranberry cake onto a plate and leave the pan in place for another 10 minutes before removing.  Cool both cakes to room temperature.

Assemble the cake by arranging the plain cake on a cake plate. Cover well with the cranberry-raspberry jam pushing it just to the edges (there should be a bit of jam leftover). With both hands, or two large spatulas carefully lift the cranberry cake off of its plate and on to the top of the jam layer with the cranberries facing up.

For the ginger cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger

Combine the cream, powdered sugar, vanilla, and ginger in a mixing bowl and whip for 3-4 minutes until medium peaks form. Taste and check the strength of the ginger- add more to suit your tastes. Serve dollops of cream with slices of the cake.


Friday, October 17, 2014

The Art of Book Publishing

Hello everyone! It's been a while since I had anything other than book reviews posting up here but rest assured, I have some stuff in the works for the coming weeks and months that I'm eager to share!

In the mean time, I saw this really great posting over on Bethany House Publishers blog that I wanted to quickly share because I thought it was soooo cool!

cr.From BHP's blog!
Have you ever wondered about how a book gets printed? Well I have! In this quick post from one of Bethany's own editors Amy Green (whom I've had the pleasure of corresponding with before), you will get a sneak peak in on that process!

I have to admit that that stack of covers sting there and waiting to be cut and bound is like the coolest thing ever and just gives me tingles all over! Ahhh! Books just give you the best kind of feelings don't they??

I have to admit that I can't wait for that book to hit the shelves (or to show up in my review options!) but in the mean time head over to BHP's blog and check out the full article! 

Book Review: Beside Bethesda: 31 Days Toward Deeper Healing

Chronic illness. Chronic pain. Debilitation. Paralysis.

These are hard words. Hard words that no one wants to hear. Words that sometimes we hear anyway when we want to hear words of hope instead.

This book, "Beyond Bethesda" by Joni Earekson Tada is a devotional book of hope. This slim padded volume has 31 daily entries meant to be read over the course of a month and are geared to lead the hurting towards a deep healing from the only one who can truly heal, who can truly understand, Jesus.

Each entry is about 3-4 pages long and can be read in about 5 minutes time. Coupled with prayer and meditation these bite sized pieces of daily bread are perfect for a morning reading! In preparation for this review I was reading several a morning but I really longed to be able to spend some more time and linger as I read through these entries. After a year of chaos in my life, and nearly 21 years on my own journey of chronic pain that is a day by day progression, I can tell you the passing days of pain can numb you, can make you feel that nothing will ever be different than it is now- or will perhaps be worse in the future. That is not the case. Reading Joni's words were- refreshing- and much needed. Joni begins your journey beside the titular pool of healing water- the pool of Bethesda and is a gentle but authoritative guide as she steers the troubled into calmer mental waters.

There were a number of entries that really called out to me throughout the course of the book but one of my favorites has to be Day 9 "The Day's First Battle" which is about connecting with the Lord in prayer before your feet even hit the floor. It was immensely encouraging to me that someone else deals with the same feelings that I do, that same unwillingness when in pain- or stressed, or facing a mountain of work- to even get out of bed. Joni however, reminds her reader that the victory is all Jesus' and that we are not to be defeated before the day begins! In the 'Deeper Thoughts' section following Joni pairs Psalm 142:6-7 with this entry and though I would have never thought to apply those verses to my illness, my disease, I was really struck with how fitting they felt. It reads:
Listen to my cry,for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
for they are too strong for me.
Set me free from my prison,
that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
because of your goodness to me.
There were many other entries that I really enjoyed in this book and it would be too long to mention all of them but my other top favorites really deserve a mention! Be sure to look for: Day 8 "As a Thousand Years", Day 16 "Abiding in Christ", Day 21 " Eager Anticipation", Day 22 "The Slowness of God", Day 27 "Weaving Straw into Gold", and Day 28 "Not Why but How".

This book is truly a gem! Though I enjoyed reading it once I really anticipate that as years go by it is going to be one that I pull off my bookshelf time and again! I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is, or who has, suffered with one of those hope-draining diagnosis. I would also encourage you that if you know someone that is going through this pain journey that you don't just recommend this book to them  but go the extra mile to put it in their hands. I have no doubt that they will thank you for it as they too find a deeper healing in Christ.

Rating: 5

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Book Review: God Gave Us Angels

This summer, my niece who is now 2.8 years old began dealing with a lot of fear. Her fears range from an utter terror of thunderstorms to a strong uncomfortableness with the dark. Normal fears for a small child yes, but still a quandary for the adults as to how to comfort and instruct her in dealing with them. All summer we have been teaching her to recite scriptures, trust God, and know that we can pray to Jesus about all the things that frighten us and He will care for us, and also to know that God sends His angles to care for us as well.
But how do you explain to a small child what an angel is, looks like, and does??

Enter "God Gave Us Angels" by Lisa Twan Bergren! I was very pleased to see this book show up in my selections for my next review and immediately put in my request.

This book is really charming! The art work done by Laura J. Bryant drives the simple narrative and in soft tones illustrates a 'day in the life' of a baby polar bear and his papa as they discuss the angels that the bunnies told Little Cub about. The doctrine on angles revealed by Little Cub's questions is solid and accurate. I found that the story itself however, was a bit lacking, and could have in fact, used a bit more story. I didn't notice it at first when I first read the book but in reading it to my niece I suddenly found myself adding little descriptions, helping phrases, and many 'papa said' and 'said Little Cub's' to the story because they weren't there to help the story along and smooth the imparting of the theme information.

Though my niece is slightly younger than the recommended 3-8 years old age range she usually does really well with books for many older age ranges. In this case she struggled to keep interest in the story and while I had hoped that this book would really illustrate for her, and capture her imagination as to what angels are like and do she missed a lot of what is great information- do to not being able to keep up with the 'just the facts' style of storytelling.

In the end, I would recommend this book. It is a lovely storyline, and the pictures are beautiful and engaging. Just be aware that this might be a bit easier read for an older child. I hope that as my sweetie grows she will better grow into the story and be able to learn more about how to trust the Creator of all things- angels included!

Final rating: 4

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Review: Kitchen Confidence

Well thanks to the recent expansion of titles available through the Blogging for Books program I am now about to review (amongst other things) - cookbooks!!! Those of you who know me probably have an idea of the extent of ecstasies that I went into upon hearing this news- and for those of you who don't- prepare yourselves. :)

I am thrilled to be reviewing Kelsey Nixon's "Kitchen Confidence"! I have had my eye on Kelsey for a
number of years now, since her debut into the food TV realm as a contestant on Food Network's "Next Food Star" program. She stood out to me then as a recent culinary grad myself and for her infectious bubbly personality as well as eager passion and desire to teach. As the years went by I was pleased to see her turn up on the Cooking Channel with her own show and have been pleased to sit down and learn with Kelsey whenever I'm able!

I love happy books. I love happy cookbooks too. "Kitchen Confidence" definitely qualifies as a happy cookbook! As the reader first picks up the book they are greeted with a bright and punchy cover full of modern colors and eye catching graphics. Delving into to the book you will find a well ordered and graphically pleasing layout. The book is divided into recipe categories that range from 'Breakfast & Morning Treats', to 'Sandwiches & Soups', to 'Desserts & Sweets'- and offers everything in between too! Each chapter begins with a clear list of the recipes in that section and each recipe title is well highlighted with bold text at the top of every page.

As I read I enjoyed especially the sporadic technique blocks and sections that explained the way something was to be done or the why behind a particular instruction. I also think it is essential in every cookbook that the author includes 'cooks notes' at the beginning of a recipe. Kelsey's book lives up to that expectation and provides a wonderful insight to a recipe's history, usage, and/or possibilities! All of the book is written in a friendly 'over your shoulder' directional style and showcases Kelsey's warm and encouraging style well. This book is well suited to be used by a beginning cook looking to expand their skills, and by an experienced cook who desires to produce well flavored and executed home staples.

One side note that I feel the need to report however is that the cover of the book is not particularly well made. When I received my copy there was already a small tear in the top filmy layer of the cover which had a small section pealing back. In the weeks since I have had this book and been handling it frequently I have noticed that the top corner and side edge of this filmy layer (upon which the cover image is printed on) is also pealing. I own a good many cookbooks and never remember one of my volumes coming apart in this way! To stop the damage I am going to need to cover the edges with heavy duty packing tape or library binding of some sort and I'm really terribly disappointed that my cover is to be marred in this way so shortly after receiving it!

The only other complaint I have about this book is that content wise while there are a good many photos there is not a photo for every recipe. For me this is essential in any modern cookbook and I'm a bit puzzled as to why they were left out. Even if covered as multiple images on a single page this would still give the reader and cook a good idea as to how the recipe is to turn out- and give them incentive for making it in the first place!

As to the actual recipes: I have tried one so far and found it to be excellent! You can find a step by step walk through to the "Grandma's Banana-Nut Sheet Cake" on my blog along with further notes on how the recipes preformed. Suffice to say though I was very pleased and enjoyed the results! I have flagged up my book with mini post-it's and I am really looking forward to making more of these tempting and delicious recipes in the future!

Final Rating: 4.5

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Foodie Friday: "Grandma's Banana Cake"

Recently one of my blogging programs opened up their selection of books available for review. This little development has thrilled me no end because I'm now able to review (drumroll please...) COOKBOOKS! 
Watch out world, here I come! 

LOL! Well maybe not the whole world...maybe just my little corner of the universe! ;) 

My first cookbook review will be up in a jiffy but before I post it I wanted to kick things off by sharing one of the recipes from the book! This recipe from Kelsey Nixon's "Kitchen Confidence" was really the perfect place to start!

"Grandma's Banana Cake" by: Kelsey Nixon

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 ripe medium bananas, mashed
1 cup whole milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1) For the banana cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 10.5 x 15.5 inch jelly roll pan.
2) Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed, until pale yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs, on at a time, followed by the lemon juice, mashed bananas, and milk.
3) In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour baking soda, and salt, Slowly beat the flour mixture into the banana mixture, then beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. 
4) Bake until a cake tester inserted into the cake comes out clean. 25-30 minutes. Let cool.

1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ripe medium banana, mashed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts

5) For the icing: Using an electric mixer, combine the butter, banana, vanilla, powdered sugar, and salt and beat until smooth. If the icing is too thick, add a teaspoon or two of milk.
6) Frost the cake with the icing and sprinkle the top with the walnuts. Store the cake, covered tightly with plastic wrap, at room temperature for up to 2 days.

My thoughts on the recipe and cake:

I am really pleased at how easy this recipe was to put together, how well it baked up and how yummy it turned out! Even with photoing my steps I think that I maybe spent an hour on it?? It wasn't long and it really was a simple old-fashioned recipe. I like that the bananas were used in both the cake and the frosting- it brings up the banana flavor nicely. The cake itself I really can't say enough about! It is light with an excellent crumb, and it has such a rich butter flavor and buttery mouth-feel that I felt like I was eating an oil based cake recipe with it's super moistness! I used salted butter and still added the salt in both portions of the recipe and like it that way. The added salt level is negligible and in the case of the frosting is actually a better contrast to the banana and cuts the super-sugary 'belch' many icing style frosting's can give. As my family doesn't like walnuts and particularly wouldn't like nuts on a cake like this I omitted them. 

All in all, this is the cake your grandmother used to make- and it's perfect for a crowd, be it a family gathering or a church social! I highly recommend you make it- and enjoy it! 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review: Murder at the Mikado

So dear reader, Julianna Deering is back again with another installment in the "Drew Farthering Mysteries"! reviewed it last summer. Finally getting to sit down and read this book was something of a monumental effort but once I was settled and dug into the book it fairly rolled along and I quite enjoyed it over the course of an afternoon!

This book "Murder at the Mikado" is the third volume in this series and quite lives up to all the hype I gave the first book when I reviewed it last summer. Finally getting to sit down and read this book was something of a monumental effort but once I was settled and dug into the book it fairly rolled along and I quite enjoyed it over the course of an afternoon! 

Drew and Madeline are now engaged and are fast approaching their wedding date when in whirls a past flame of Drew's. Actress Fleur Landis may be married with a child now but that's no damper to her personal dramatics as she is accused of murdering the lead actor- and her former lover- from her old troupe! When Fleur and her husband Landis, Drew's new business manager comes begging for help Drew- who never wished to see Fleur again- relents and takes on the case.
The case progresses though not all is what it seems. Not all is okay at home either as Madeline begins to feel the pressures of their impending marriage set under the specter of charming bombshell Fleur. Soon enough the chase quickens and as more bodies start dropping the hunt for the killer is in full force! But what goes on behind the scenes and behind the public eye is the most important- for both the case and for Drew and Madeline!

So as I said at the beginning I really enjoyed this book! I grew up on mystery novels but as I got older that genre really dropped from my rotation, partially because I thought I'd grown too old for them and partially because I wasn't finding that genre written in Christian fiction. I am ever so glad that that is changing now with Deering's "Drew Fathering Mysteries"!
     In particular I appreciated that the book is well paced and written, and also that the mystery is well concealed until the end- I may have had my suspicions as to who the guilty party was but right up until the end Deering held all her cards tightly! Also, I really liked how this read as straight up clean cut mystery. The mentions of God or spiritual themes are hard to come by in this book but I didn't feel like that detracted from the character or story being told. It has been previously well established where Drew and Madeline are with God and I didn't think it needed to be re-addressed with club-like agility. (But that's just me!) If you are looking for something super-spiritually laced look elsewhere because this is nearly pure mystery/adventure! Additionally, I appreciated that some of the elements present in the first book, like social drinking, were dropped from this installment. While they may be period appropriate, and may be useful tools in characterizing the baddie, fiend, and rogue in a novel I don't find them appropriate for the hero of a Christian novel and I was glad to see them gone!

Something that I loved to see in this book was the full attention that Deering gave to working in references to Gilbert and Sullivan's works. The title of the book comes from Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado" as this is one of the two plays that the theater troupe is preforming when the murder takes place. Personally, though I have not listened to all of their works I have a great fondness for The Pirates of Penzance and was charmed to find bits of it scattered throughout the book!

All in all I have no complaints about this lovely period mystery novel that Julianna Deering has produced and I am happy to recommend it to all of you!

Final rating: 5

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"I Am Designed"

So at the moment I seem to be on semi-hiatus from my lovely blog but I'm working on getting back to blogging like I used to- and in the mean time I seem to have it a milestone of 4000 views to my page! Thank you for reading and supporting me!

In leiu of a real thoughtful article here are some rambly thoughts of mine that I wrote out the other week... Perhaps they will encourage you today...?

I Am Designed

I am designed for prayer- not despair,
I am designed to give praise all my days- not be dragged down by my ingratitudes,
I am designed for freedom- not fear,
I am designed for contentment- not grief,
I am designed for a life of love- not a blanket of indifference,
I am designed for giving mercy and receiving grace- not for a like of slavery,
I am designed for sola deo gloria- not for self aggrandizement,
I am designed for my weaknesses being made perfect in him- not for self-implosion,
I am designed for my Savior- not my self. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Missionary Acres Bound

Hello! I'm working on my write up of my Missionary Acres trip and suddenly realized that I could have (and probably should have) posted it here as well! 
So, posting this here now for reference! 

Dear Friends and Family,
     Hello! I wanted to take a minute here to tell you all what I’ll be up to this coming week! As many of you know last year I planned to go on a missions trip to a place in Missouri called Missionary Acres which is a retirement community for missionaries.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Book Review: Truth Be Told

 Today I have a book from an author new to me! I've been wanting to catch a book from author Carol Cox for a while now after I was intrigued by the title and subject of her last work so I was eager to snap up a copy of "Truth Be Told" when it appeared!

The story revolves around Amelia Wagner. Amelia is more then ready for a change of pace when, fresh off the train from Denver and the fast paced high life it offers, she sets foot back in her father's newspaper office in Granite Springs, Arizona. She expects to spend a pleasant summer catching up with her father and once again being in her true home but best laid plans are often thwarted and Amelia finds herself saying goodbye to her dying father and trying to fill the large shoes he's left behind in his beloved profession.

Amelia finds in the wake of her father's death that the paper in is a delicate position due to his inability to pound the pavement in the months during his decline and she will be the doing or undoing of all of her father's years of hard work. She also is puzzled by the biggest story in her father's bulls eye- an expose on a local mining company that never fully came to light. As Amelia beings to track down the full story she finds help in the most unlikely of sources- an employee of the very mining company that her father railed against publicly before his death. Soon Amelia and Ben find themselves in deeper than they ever expected with a story that may be the undoing of both of them!

There was a few quirks with the book that I noticed and wanted to point out. One of them was that Amelia is a really good girl. I mean really, aside from being rather innocent and over trusting she practically has no flaws. Every time she reacts to something in a normal human way (anger, disappointment, confusion, etc.) she, in the very next moment corrects herself and immediately thinks Biblically about the situation in question, always seeing the situation for what it must be and not what it actually appears at the moment. I don't know about you but I just have a hard time liking someone who is always good, who can always change on the drop of a dime and be...perfect. It makes me wonder- 'can a character be too good?'
Another thing was that the mining described as taking place sounds a awfully like today's fracking. It is a pet peeve of mine to see people dragging modern issues into the past for soap box purposes and although Cox never carries through with fully disclosing the ins and outs of the mining operation she has enough of a soap box to make sure that the characters fully disapprove of what is being done in their community. It just isn't appropriate for this setting without providing some explanation in an author's note.  

This book was in all honesty a quick read, the storyline was pretty basic and I'm sad to say predictable. There was nothing terribly exciting in the plot for me- but the thing is that there was nothing particularly wrong with the plot either... As I continued to read and analyze this and try to make sense of it I came to the realization that this is a book that I would have really enjoyed- when I was 14 or 15 years old... And this is the fact that frustrates me. For me it just doesn't deliver on the 'grown up' fiction I was expecting to read. I want characters to be flawed, I need situations to be real, and I think that putting things right doesn't come at the wave of a magic wand. For me this story had more relationship fantasy than realistic fiction.

If you like your fiction on the light side and don't want to think too much about logic and loopholes then this book is for you,  but next time I think I'll be skipping the sugary  fluff and finding something a little more my speed.

Final Rating: 3

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and opinion of the product.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Book Review: Spoken For: Embracing Who You Are and Whose You Are

Being "spoken for", its a beautiful thought isn't it?

Knowing that someone loves you, wants to take care of you, that someone doesn't want you to belong to anyone else, and wants to identify themselves with you is a truly powerful thought. It's a thought that easily drives a person. When you think about it you find yourself easily picturing a happy couple and the way that they cherish each other and show their devotion to each other. 

Well that is what this book is all about. "Spoken For: Embracing Who You Are and Whose You Are", written by the team of Robin Jones Gunn (from the Sisterchicks devo) and Alyssa Joy Bethke is all about the greatest romance, and the greatest love, the love of Christ, and His relentless pursuit of you His bride. 

This book bounces back and forth between each writers voice and story and unfolds each woman's personal love story as they discuss the way that God loves each one of us and how He, as the lover of our souls, peruses a relationship with us- even when we are unlovely or unfaithful to Him and His highest desires for us. Though 95% of it is 'something I've heard before' the style that Gunn writes and communicates those eternal truths in is refreshingly honest, and poignant. The truth of God's love is one that I think is difficult to write about because how do you quantify something for human imagining and understanding that is so completely  incomprehensible to us here on earth? Gunn and Bethke do a fine job of this though as they take hold of something we can grasp- a love story- and parallel that with our spiritual love story as Christians. 

Many parts of the book were really encouraging to me and really touched me deeply. Chapter six especially was challenging as the authors deal with the topic of "You Are of Great Value". In this chapter one thing that really stood out was the thought of God not needing puppets to do things for Him- we can't do anything for God in and of ourselves- but that we are of great value to Him and there is a difference between the two, and important one, and a striking one. To put it into simple terms it is the need to remember that we are God's treasure and it isn't a position we got by our own effort but by His paid price and not to be trapped by the world. 

The one issue that I had with this book that I don't know whether to call a big one or a small one is with how it treated dating. Alyssa Joy Bethke (as you find upon reading) is someone who obviously from my generation of Christian young women, and while I am well aware that everybody and their life story is different I was surprised and a bit concerned at the casual breakup/makeup attitude modeled by Bethke as she tells the story about how she found and ended up with her husband. In today's Christian culture this may exist more prevalently than I am aware but just because it does does't mean it should. God calls us to higher standards in our relationships- especially our deepest personal ones and although all worked out for Bethke in the end as she established what sounds like a very happy marriage that doesn't mean that God's highest standard for getting them to that point was followed. Today, I believe there are many more wise and Biblical ways of bring two people to the marriage alter.  

This book is a very manageable paperback coming in at 182 pages divided over eleven chapters. The end of each chapter is set up with comprehensive study questions and will make for good personal or group study. Initially I thought that this book was directed towards adult women, and though I still feel that it is entirely appropriate for that market, I found myself really thinking that some of the young teen girls that I disciple would really benefit and enjoy this devotional. I also really like the cover for the book; it is light filled, warm and inviting as well as embracing bright spunky colors for the overall scheme. In short, its a book that makes you want to pick it up! And I do hope that you do just that, it was a good breezy read with the kind of substance that a heart needs to hear sometimes in this difficult Christian walk. I will be looking forward to reading more devotionals from Gunn and be looking forward to seeing what Bethke does next! 

Final Rating: 4.5

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

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Book Review: The Global War On Christians

When I first received my copy of "The Global War On Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution" by John L. Allen Jr. to review I was really excited. I wanted to learn about the persecution issues that other Christians in other parts of the world were facing and relatedly, about the socio-political climates that create or foster those conditions. I have been disappointed to find this book not as helpful I hoped.
In all honesty, this has proven the hardest book for me to review both because of the substance of the book and logistically. Numerous extraordinary personal circumstances have kept this book at the top of my TBR pile but just out of reach of completion for many weeks past when this review was due.

The book is laid out in three sections:
~Anti-Christian Persecution Around the World
~Myths About the Global War on Christians
~Fallout, Consequences, and Response

After a brief overview, part one launches into a region by region, country by country discourse on conflicts in the given area. Regions covered are Africa, Asia, Latin America, The Middle East, and Eastern Europe. I was first excited by this section of the book. The Introduction and the Overview are filled with the type of content that I hoped to find- informational, well thought our and reasoned and impassioned- even if I didn't agree with all the arguments made. But here is also where I felt the book start to fall apart.
As the author begins to relate accounts of persecution and martyrdom I began to notice the distinct lack of footnotes documenting the source of the stories. A quick perusal of the rest of the book and I soon realized that there wasn't any bibliography for this book. Imagine my surprise then that as I continued to read the author of this book actually addresses the lack of footnotes and basically says that to document all the sources for every account he cites would be "unwieldy" and recommends the reader use an "internet search engine" to find everything he talks about! In a non-fiction book, especially one where the author is lauded as "the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and a Vatican analyst for CNBN and National Public Radio" as well as being an Associate Editor of The Boston Globe this is unforgivable and simply shows the willful lack of credible reporting! An academic type non-fiction book without footnotes is simply a book of fiction and opinion.
As I moved into what I anticipated to be the meat of the book in the region/country breakdown chapters another thing that became very evident from this point on was that the author was relating stories that were 95% about members of the Catholic church and 5% about Christians from other faith traditions. When selecting this book I knew going in that the author was a Catholic- but with this being a more mainstream publisher not a Catholic one I expected there to be a balance in the material that he related. I was not expecting a book that read like a church periodical, unfortunately that is just what it feels like.

In addition, I was really frustrated that the majority of the 'info' given on each country was not explaining the socio-political climate but relating the individual stories of the Catholic lay people on the scene.  I really didn't learn anything about the area itself or about what Christians face in a particular country, I just heard basic accounts about individual people.  As wide spread as persecution is I think it would have been better to relate one powerful story and use it to illustrate what happens, or how and why this is typical of the country instead of overwhelming and (dare I say it?) boring the reader droning on and on with nothing more than news clippings that could be found on the internet.

In all honesty after a certain point I did give up on completing this book. In all my reviews I've never done that, and in all the reading I've ever done I could count on one hand the books that I've 'quit' on but try after try there was just nothing that engaged or attached me to this book. Nothing stirred me to better understanding or to action on my Christian brother and sister's behalf- and in a book that is meant to do just that that is what I perhaps find the most disappointing....

The issue, the war on Christians and Christianity is real. It is real and it is powerfully evil but today on some level we all have just tuned out to the realities of this fact. This issue, this war, deserves- and should demand- our attentions. In reading this book the reader should not feel further disconnected and discouraged; they should feel enlivened and ready to help wherever they can. The sad reality of this book is that however much I read about individuals the author never introduced me to and made me care about the people and has instead effectively raised another barrier to the readers dismissal of the issue due to the way the material was presented in this book.

Final Rating: 1.5

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

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Book Review: Into the Whirlwhind

It’s taken me a long time for me to write this review – in many senses! First off I want to thank Amy at Bethany House for investigating and help resolve a problem I was having at the end of the year with my reviewers account! She was kind enough to let me have my pick of recent available new releases; right at the top of my list was Elizabeth Camden’s newest “Into the Whirlwind”! Once received I was eager to read it and eager to get my review posted, but my own life has been a bit of a whirlwind since the beginning of the year and has kept me from posting as planned.

Camden’s newest offering centers around Mollie Knox, single daughter of a Civil War veteran and owner and proprietor of her father’s beloved 57th Illinois Watch Company. Just like the exquisite watches she lovingly assembles Mollie is a woman of delicate parts moving precisely in time and according to expectation. Zach Kazmarek is the exact opposite of Mollie. Raised from humble immigrant beginnings to become one of the city’s most prominent attorneys Zach is bold, passionate, and not afraid to get what he wants; working for one of the city’s biggest and best department stores he’s developed a reputation for just that. For three years Mollie and Zach have met for strictly business purposes, she thinking him cold and unfeeling; he thinking she was the most beautiful creature on earth. After three years neither really knows the other but that is about to change….

Set against the background of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 Mollie and Zack are thrown together in a way they never expected. Amidst the chaos of that night and the following weeks Mollie is carried away on a whirlwind of events and emotions that throws her tightly ordered world into a tailspin that she may never recover from… Conflicted about what she truly wants from life, and from Zack, Mollie struggles to rebuild her company and her life and learns that sometimes the only way to survive the winds of change is to embrace them.

Having fallen in love with Camden’s work in the stellar “The Rose of Winslow Street” I have followed with interest her subsequent releases these last few years. Going into this book I had only a little knowledge about the Great Chicago fire and found many of the details she shares truly interesting as she, from the first pages, grabs the readers hand and pulls them along into the fire. In many places it really felt like you were there with Mollie, Zach, and little Sophie, whom they pick up during their flight from the city. I don’t know why, but in the past when I think of the Fire I think of the great destruction that accompanied it- but I’ve never considered what that meant personally, logistically, and financially to the people affected. Through Mollie and Zach’s eyes you really get a picture of how the city was rebuilt and changes made and it brings to the reader a personal connection to an event from long ago.

 Over all my feelings on this particular Elizabeth Camden novel are mixed. There are things I really liked about the book like the time period, the neat way the historical info was presented, and the character of Zach who has a strong presence throughout. But there are things that I felt left something to be desired. I would have loved to dig a bit more into Mollie for example, though she is the main character and the story is told mainly from her perspective there were times that I felt disconnected from her- like she wasn’t telling the whole truth with a particular thought or action. There were times that I questioned her sincerity in what she thought or did with her relationships with Colonel Lowe vs. Zach and how she treated both of them. In both cases it seemed that the relationship was more about her then about two parties and equal ground. At the end I got annoyed because when she’s ready for what she wants she goes all angsty over whether or not she can get it, and get it when she wants it and I don’t find that attractive in any heroine.

Having said that however, I realize that the issues that I have with Mollie’s character are not a deal breaker for this book. Despite her being more indecisive than I would have liked for a woman with the futures of others in her hands I couldn’t really dislike her either. Mollie finds her security in her routine and in knowing what to expect from herself and others- and I can’t say that I have never been that way myself. What Mollie learns however is that with the right people by your side the storms of life are nothing to fear.

Final Rating: 3.5 stars

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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book Review: A Beauty So Rare

Well after a full month of promotions for Tamera Alexander's new book "A Beauty So Rare" The time has come for me to sit down and write my review of said book! ...But before I do that I just 
wanted to say that I really love working with these book blogging programs and getting the chance to review this latest title from Bethany House! I was quite pleased to be getting an 'advanced reader copy' to begin with but I can't tell you how utterly delighted I was to be asked to be a part of this special team to help promote the book more directly! It has been a great experience (that has even secured me a tin of yummy cookies from Christie's bakery in Nashville!) and one I won't soon forget!

If you have followed me (and this blog) for any amount of time you will no doubt know how utterly in love with Tamera Alexander's books and writing style I am. (And I'm sure that you can imagine the fangirling that took place when I got the email offering me this promotions opportunity!) It should be no surprise then that this review is going to be um, slightly biased...but I'll do my best to ahem, remain professional. :)

Set in post civil-war Nashville, "A Beauty So Rare" opens on the life of Eleanor Braddock. The war has changed life for Eleanor drastically, gone are her mother, her brother, her family's financial security, and- her father's mind. At nearly 30 years old unmarried, ordinary Eleanor has little else to loose as she sells off the home she grew up in and makes the humbling move into Nashville. Although she is living with, and under the good graces of, her Aunt the famed Adelicia Acklen in her stately home, Eleanor intends to be a burden on her aunt for as brief a time as possible. After her best laid plans for her future are dashed Eleanor finds work in a most unusual fashion- but as she begins to reach out to the widows and orphans that have flooded the city after the war Eleanor begins to learn that God may have more planned for her then she ever could have hoped for!
Also building a life for himself in Nashville is Marcus Gotfried a man with many hidden talents- and an equally hidden past. Hailing from Austria, Marcus has also come from another life and is working hard to create the kind of life that he wants to be proud of. With a talent for grafting and planting, a talent for architecture and building, and it seems- a talent for making Eleanor's head spin his options are seemingly wide open...but that may not be the true case. Even as his compelled return to Austria and his old life looms on the horizon Marcus tries his best to not form attachments to Eleanor- he knows something between them can never be- but as he helps her with her work and comes to know her better and better the more he rethinks the course he wants his life to really take.

You don't know how long I have been waiting for this book.
The last few years I have enjoyed the yearly pattern of a new Tamera Alexander book being released just weeks before my birthday- and the expectation that a freshly printed copy would soon be in my hands, but this last year the pattern changed on me and the late fall book I looked forward to was now to be due in the spring! Oh fudge. Well, now that spring is here so is Eleanor's story- a story that was well worth the wait! While it did take me a while to get through the 471 beautifully bound small type pages that really was due to the small children in my care not the story itself!

The story it self is lovely. The characters that Alexander creates are ones, from humble seamstress to highly acclaimed aunt, that one wants to know and to be friends with. One of the things that Tamera Alexander does so well is that she tells the story in front of her. I frequently find myself tiring reading some other authors because they are so heavy handed with plastering around backstory until the poor characters are mired deeply in pasts that need escaping.  Not so with Alexander. Her characters and story telling style always stands 'as is'- she doesn't need to paint the details of the past in the heavy strokes that leave a reader burdened- but she lets you know, as in real life, that everyone has a past and everyone is moving forward day by day. It is something that I think we often need reminded of and something that is a particular theme of this book. Eleanor is someone who has been touched by national division, the death of loved ones, the loss of expectations and now dreams, and who is now experiencing the tragedy of dementia in her father. But these things do not cripple her. Despite the weight she moves forward step by step as God opens and closes the doors of her life according to his plan for her.

My favorite quote from the book! All ready for Pinning!
As Eleanor's story unfolds I really found myself identifying with her a great deal. While I might not share her adversity to the color pink I do share with her a similar age, marital status and more reserved disposition. I share her love of cooking had have had my own hopes for business endeavors dashed. I share her love of children and her desire to provide for the ones she loves. Even with sharing so many similarities with this character I found ways that she taught me as well- and that is another area that Alexander succeeds so well in. The truth of God is always strongly present in every book but is never something you are bashed over the head with, it always is woven in as naturally as breathing. When I pick up a fiction book to read it is almost always for enjoyment so I really appreciate this fact!

The cherry on top for this book is the personal connection that is offered. This volume has a good list of book club discussion questions in the back that are just begging to be used! Online at Alexander's blog is several recipes that were featured in the book including the savory custard, buttermilk pie, and shortbread. Given the opportunity I would love to put both of these to use myself! (Friends, let me know if your interested in a party!) Also of note listed in the back is all the many ways one can contact the author yourself. I personally follow her on Facebook and really enjoy the thoughts she shares in her posts! I recommend you connect with her too!

All in all, Tamera Alexander has once again produced a flawless book. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy for your summer reading and enjoyment and take a few hours off from the bustle of everyday life to step back in time and discover "A Beauty So Rare".

Final Rating: 5 stars

For my followers~ be sure and check back in here next week where I'll be hosting my second giveaway! It's not to be missed!

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

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Book Preview: Goin' on a book hunt...

Ok, so when was the last time that you went on a scavenger hunt? For me it was about three years ago. It was an experience that pretty much ended up in total and utter disaster!

Well, whether your last scavenger hunt ended with victory or vanquish I say give it another go! In honor of Tamera Alexander's launch of "A Beauty So Rare" she is hosting a fabulous Pinterest Scavenger Hunt! And I promise, this one will be easy and fun- and you won't even have to leave home to participate! So check out the details below!

From Tamera's Blog

"Join me for a Pinterest Scavenger Hunt and win 1 of 7 copies of A Beauty So Rare, the second standalone novel in the Belmont Mansion series. 

PIN IT and share the love

The questions are posted below and the giveaway runs through Sunday night, April 27. The answers to the questions can be found on my Pinterest pageNot on Pinterest? Doesn’t matter. You can still participate and find the answers by using this link

Your correct answers must be submitted to (numbered 1 - 6) by Sunday, April 27, midnight Central to be entered into a drawing to win one of seven copies of A Beauty So Rare, the second standalone novel in the Belmont Mansion series. 
  1. On the A Beauty So Rare board, find the pin that shares the seamstress who sewed the dress on the cover of A Beauty So Rare (featuring the heroine, Eleanor Braddock) and *click the pin* to discover what the seamstress’s most challenging part of making the pink dress was. 
  2. On the A Lasting Impression board, find the pin where Tamera shares about the desert seasons in her life––those times that helped her write about a certain relationship in her novel, A Beauty So Rare. *Click the pin* to learn what specific relationship Tamera mentions in that blog. It’s the relationship between which two people?
  3. On the My Novels board, find the pin where Tamera shares about the inspiration behind A Beauty So Rare. *Click it* and watch the video to learn the true history that ties the Belmont Mansion (the setting of A Lasting Impression and A Beauty So Rare) to the real Insane Asylum that existed in Nashville in the 19th century.
  4. On the Recipes from my novels board, what's the recipe from A Beauty So Rare that is posted most often on that board (doesn't necessarily have the most re-pins)? It's also a favorite of Eleanor's.
  5. On the My Loves board, find the pin that references Easter weekend then *click it* to learn what kind of fish Tamera caught this past weekend.
  6. On the My Novels board, find the pin for the book trailer for A Beauty So Rare, then *click it* to watch the video. What is it that Aunt Adelicia is determined to find for Eleanor?
  7.  BONUS: LIKE Tamera's Facebook Page for an extra chance to win.

In your email, remember to number your answers from 1 to 6, like this:
1. Answer 
2. Answer
3. Answer
4. Answer
5. Answer
6. Answer
7. I liked Tamera's FB Page!

Hope you have fun with it, and I look forward to hearing from you!


Note: Pinterest is not sponsoring this promotion nor are they formally affiliated with it. "

Have fun on the hunt- and good luck in winning one of those copies of the book! You are just going to love it!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Preview: Behind the Cover- Fashion and Fiction

Hello again friends!

This week I'm here with a new look at Tamera Alexander's "A Beauty So Rare"! I'm loving this book and- head's up- will have my review of it published by the end of the week but while you are waiting on that let me take you behind the cover...

Have you ever wondered about how book covers are created? I know I have! I actually really love book covers and think that they speak a lot to what is in between the covers. In years past most covers (and books!) that are lining my shelves are ones with beautifully rendered artists interpretations of how an artist sees the characters. Sometimes those covers match up splendidly with the characters described in the books, but sometimes the artist misses the mark! (How do authors feel about that when that happens?)

Well, now a days designing a book cover has changed! Much is done in front of a lens and then translated into what you see on the cover. I recently read about how this was done for the cover of "A Beauty So Rare" and there are a lot of neat details that go into making a book cover! I encourage you to head on over to Tamera's blog and take a look for yourself at the cool pics that she posted!

In the mean time, I'd love to know what you think makes a good book cover and what makes a bad one? Any thoughts? Lets discuss!

Also, one more thing- for a look at how the dress for the cover of the book was designed head on over to this post also on Tamera's site! Even if you aren't into historical fashion this will be a cool read for you!!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Preview: And now, for a recipe...

Well here I am again with a posting about the new novel from Tamera Alexander, "A Beauty So Rare"! This week I have dug into the book and I'm about three-quarters of the way through it- and finding my mouth watering at every turn!

One of the star attractions in the book is the 'savory custard' that's enjoyed at several points in the book. Now, I'm sure you are saying "what's a 'savory custard'"? And that my friend is a good question!
This book is set in the post Civil War era and located in the heart of it all, Nashville. During that time period pies of every description would have been whipped up with ease once- or perhaps several times a week! I mean really, who doesn't love pie? :) This 'savory custard' pie is really a cousin of what we might better know as the French favorite- quiche. Long way to travel from Nashville to Paris huh? Well never fear the recipe has traveled well and is ready to be enjoyed by one and all!

Take a look at the recipe (under the 'read more' link below) and print it today and serve yourself up a slice of history- and deliciousness!  I know I can't wait to myself!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Book Preview: A Beauty So Rare -Inspired by.....

"What would you do with all these women?"

So asks Tamera Alexander after reading an account of widows coming to Nashville after the Civil War looking for their husbands, fathers, and brothers. From that one spark Alexander's newest Belmont Mansion novel "A Beauty So Rare" is born. Take a look at this exclusive content from the author and get a behind the scenes what inspired her to begin writing!

I don't know about you but I cant wait to sit down this weekend (hopefully!) and get started on this book! I've been waiting on it for so long and I can't believe it's really here! Grab your copy HERE!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Preview: A Beauty So Rare

Long time no see huh folks? Well, despite my recent absence to the blogosphere I am still alive! I have some great posts planned for the next month on a couple of topics- one of those topics that I know I'm going to love talking about is books! One book in particular has been on my (not-so-patiently) wait list and I have been looking forward to it's release! That book is Tamera Alexander's new Belmont novel "A Beauty So Rare"!

I have my review copy in hand and over the next few weeks during the big release I will be giving you some cool sneak peaks! Be sure to keep your eyes pealed for each weeks posts!

This week just to get you started take a look at the book trailer!

If that has whet your appetite and you are looking for more be sure and check out this exclusive book excerpt! Click HERE!
See you all back next week!