A Night With the King – A Review of Esther by Angela Hunt

Open the pages of the book of Esther in the Old Testament and one cannot be caught up in the age old story of a king and his search for the most beautiful woman in his kingdom to be his queen. In her book, Esther: Royal Beauty, Angela Hunt takes the reader back to the days of the great Persian Empire. We walk the streets of Susa, and meet Hadassah (Esther), her cousin Mordecai and his wife Miriam. As she recounts the Biblical story, Hunt makes a strong effort to fill in the gaps not mentioned in the Bible by using other historical accounts.  (more…)

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When the Soul Mends Review

9781601427120

When the Soul Mends is the 3rd book in the Sister’s of the Amish Quilt series by Cindy Woodsmall. It follows the story of Hannah Lapp who left her Old Order Amish community two years prior under shadow of disgrace and shame. Now, having carefully built up a new life, and excited about her future, Hannah finds herself pulled back into her old life when tragedy strikes among the Amish where she grew up.

A thread of tension weaves together the pieces of Hannah’s life. Currently happy and soon to be engaged to an Englisher named Martin Palmer, it becomes apparent that she hasn’t severed all the ties to her past, as her mind occasionally wanders back to her former love, Paul Waddell. When the need arises for her to temporarily return home, old tensions flare and questions arise. While helping her family deal with her sister’s mental illness, she finds herself confronting old problems from a different mindset.

Hannah’s struggles stem from trauma in her past combined with the ordinary dilemmas that occur as young adults make their way in the world. She must decide who she will be. As I read this story, I enjoyed the way the author compared and contrasted life her life among the Amish versus among the English. On the outside, there were obvious differences in clothing and transportation, but Hannah found that the biggest changes were in her heart. Most of the the characters in this story were minimally developed, but I’m sure reading all three books in the series presents them more fully. However one character rapidly changed in the story leaving it feeling disjointed. Initially Martin Palmer is presented as a doting boyfriend who absolutely adores Hannah and is excited to start a marriage together. However, as she needs to return home to deal with family business, he quickly becomes distant. That alone isn’t that odd as relationships can be strained, but the way he starts to pressure her to dress more provocatively and participate in his intense social obligations was a major swing from the way his character was initially established. At the beginning of the book, the English world seemed like a great fit for Hannah but by the end, due to Martin’s huge shift, she no longer seemed to fit despite the fact that nothing else in that world had changed. Despite that, the overall story was interesting and provided interesting insights into the Amish culture.

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A Crafty Sparkly Christmas

9781449414559_frontcoverIf you have closets full of craft supplies, save toilet paper tubes because they are useful, and can’t throw away objects that you plan to repurpose, then you might enjoy Christmas like I do. I love to make things. After I had kids, I had to scale back and not try out every kind of craft available because I didn’t have time and I’m not very good at cleaning up my crafty messes. If you could peek in my house, you would see the closets and corners and tables and desks with half finished projects. Crazy! Recently I was given a copy of Glitterville’s Handmade Christmas: A Glittered Guide for Whimsical Crafting!
, by Stephen Brown, and I have to say…”I love it.” Its crafty, sparkly goodness all wrapped up in a beautiful book sure to inspire.

Inside its pages are projects that reminded me of what a trip through Whoville might look like. The crafts are whimsical, sparkly and creative. There are templates for many of the items in the back which makes it even better. I think my favorites are the Glitter Village and all the chenille Christmas trees and snowflakes. I was ready to order some quick and easy craft kits for my kids this Christmas but I’m feeling inspired to dig through my stash and do some of these really unique projects. Most of these projects use basic craft supplies and then coat the finished project with paint and glitter. In other words, many of these can be done with the odds and ends you probably have around your house! Hooray!

(Disclosure: I was given a free copy of this book to review by Andrews McMeel Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion. Affliliate link included in post.)

 

 

C.S. Lewis and the Crisis of A Christian by Gregory S. Cootsona – A Review

I grew up in an Evangelical Christian home complete with time in a Christian school and later college. Conveniently, that method of education meant that I memorized Bible verses, learned the right way to understand the Bible and didn’t have any idea that the Christian life has so many questions that don’t haveLewis immediately clear answers. I listened in class, took good notes, got an A on the test and voila…life was good. Until it wasn’t.  And when life wasn’t good anymore, I felt very unprepared to sort through the various emotions, spiritual struggles, bitterness and depression.

To many, C.S. Lewis is one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. While many weigh in with differing  opinions, I think the reason his works are so beloved is that he approached the Bible from a different perspective  than a traditional faith experience. He wasn’t content with Sunday School answers and felt compelled to grapple with issues that don’t have easy answers.  Throughout his works, a thread emerges. Lewis seeks to find true joy in Christ but finds that he must wrestle with various crises of belief in order to find that rest and peace.

When I received a copy of C.S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian, I hoped that it would further my own walk with the Lord as I work through finding joy in my own life.  In this work, author Gregory S. Cootsona addresses the following crisis that are found in Lewis’ works:

The Crises of Atheism  which include: The Crisis of Materialism, The Crisis of Meaninglessness & The Crisis of Anomie

The Crises of Christian Faith which include: Jesus & the Crisis of Other Myths and The Crisis of the Bible

The Crises of Human Life which include The Crisis of Feeling, The Crisis of Suffering and The Crisis of Death

As Cootsona presents each crisis, he describes what brought about each crisis in Lewis’ life, how Lewis struggled with it and how he resolved it in his own mind. As he does so, he invites each one of us to wrestle with the same difficult issues.  There is no assumption in these pages that each of Lewis’ conclusions is 100% correct. It is simply one man’s process of resolving crises and finding joy.  There are a lot of points to ponder despite this book being relatively short.  I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys C.S.Lewis’ works or to anyone who finds themselves struggling with their faith. In these pages, you will find words for your doubts and a really solid place to start wrestling with faith.

(I received a copy of this book from Westminster John Knox Press  and  NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No monetary compensation was received.)

 

50 Things You Need to Know About Satan and Demons by Mark Muska – A Review

 

In our day and age, images of the demonic and Satan are commonplace. They find their way into our entertainm50thingsdemonsent, onto our yards as Halloween decorations and into various facets of our lives.  Growing up, I had little concept of demons. Satan was the bad guy that tempted Eve to eat a piece of fruit in the garden and I knew he was red with black horns because Halloween costumes don’t lie.  Seriously though, I had a mixed bag of impressions of what these dark forces looked like and how they affect our lives.  As a teen, I remember reading some of Frank Peretti’s books and having my interest piqued. But, I didn’t have any kind of framework for understanding these bad guys.  Several years ago, our family had a series of life changing events that brought spiritual warfare to the forefront of our lives. It became a daily conversation as we worked to understand this little known concept.

I believe that demons are real. With the Bible as my handbook, there are simply too many references to ignore.  In Ephesians 6:12, we read “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”(NIV)  As I started to learn about this subject, initially it was very confusing. It was hard to know where to start putting the puzzle together. When I meet people who are encountering the subject for the first time the way I did, they often get overwhelmed the way I did. However, I was recently given a book that I feel is a great one for jumping into the topic. Recently I read, 50 Things You Need to Know About Satan and Demons, by Mark Muska.  It takes 50 different questions  we encounter in our culture and in our churches and takes a logical approach to answering them.

Questions covered in this book run the gamut. They include things like:

Who is Satan?

What is demon possession?

Why should I believe what the Bible says about Satan?

Can Satan read my thoughts?

Is it possible to actually see demons?

If I ignore Satan, will he go away or just leave me alone?

What is spiritual warfare?

…and many many more questions.

As I read through the questions, I appreciated a few things about this author’s approach. First, he states clearly upfront that he is using the Bible as the source of authority on this topic. If you don’t accept that as a source of authority, you will struggle with this book, but at least he is up front about that. Secondly, he incorporates culture all through it. Most of the way we “see” the demonic is in our culture but it is often done with artistic license with no regard to its accuracy. He does an excellent job of addressing  those various areas and then comparing them to what the Bible has to say. Sometimes there is a clear answer and sometimes there is not. Either way, the information is presented in a factual way. I would highly recommend this book especially for those who are new to the subject of spiritual warfare.  For those who are very familiar with the topic, it provide a good summary and helpful talking points for interacting with others.

(I was given a copy of this book by Bethany House publishers for review purposes in exchange for an honest opinion. No monetary compensation was received.)

 

Teaching Textbooks Curriculum Review

 

Teaching Textbooks

Two years ago, my oldest son was in 5th grade. For years, we had used Math U See. But I decided to try something new, and he was struggling with the new curriculum. Math suddenly became a huge burden. I had 7 children ages 10 and under, and I felt like a sinking ship.  I needed him to be an independent learner, but he was becoming very needy because the materials we were using did not work for us. We struggled all the way until January or February. He had floundered all year and very little math actually happened. He started to get “behind” in my mind. I considered going back to Math U See, but I was realizing that we really needed math that was almost zero work for mom. I had 4 kids in diapers and no brain cells  to think about school.

That was when the idea of Teaching Textbooks started to really take hold. I actually really like Math U See, but I didn’t have time to make sure my kids were checking their work. We could go days…weeks without me checking it, and sometimes they were doing things wrong. We would have to go back and relearn the right way. So…nothing wrong with the curriculum…just me!  So when I looked up the sample problems for Teaching Textbooks, and it seemed like a good fit, I decided to try it…I was desperate despite the intimidating price.

We are now on our second year with Teaching Textbooks and here are a couple of things that jumped out at me and the reasons why I liked the style.

1. Each problem was presented visually and audibly. It seems that each of my kids has their own unique blend of learning styles. I like that TT blends both visual and auditory styles. I find it helpful that the teacher explains the lesson which provides focus for kids that tend to skim over the directions when reading.

2. Only one problem was presented at a time. We recently attended a class on ADHD. The counselor presenting the material mentioned that for kids with difficulty focusing, it can be very helpful to limit the number of problems they see at a time. With TT, only one problem is on the screen at a time. They complete that ONE problem before seeing another.

3. As each problem is completed, it is immediately graded. This has obvious advantages. Kids don’t spend an hour on a lesson only to find out they were doing it incorrectly. With automatic grading, they find out immediately and can relearn the concept before moving on.

4. The student has a second chance. When I was in school, I remember having a very real fear of failure. I saw my son stressing over the same issue. I love that TT has a built in method that acknowledges that we often need that “do-over” before we get it right. So, when the student completes a problem, if they get it wrong, they have a choice. They can either have the program “teach” them how to do that problem step by step…or…they can simply re-do it. They if they get it wrong again, they can choose to have the program “teach” them at that point. If the par

5. The parent grade book allows parents (not software) to ultimately be in charge. Whether you need to allow your student to redo a problem or a lesson…it can be done. If you want to change a grade for whatever reason, you can do that to. The automatic grading has plenty of options that allow the parent to override the system as needed.

6. If you sell it, it has a great resale value. To me, a product with a high resale value speaks to its quality (or its limited availabilty). TT is expensive, but I felt confident giving it a try knowing that it has an excellent resale value (via Ebay or online classifieds) if for whatever it did not work for us longterm.

7. Great Customer Service.  I’ve had a few times where I needed to contact customer service. A product can only be registered a few times before the code no longer works. The first year we used this, we had 4 of our computers die…so all of them! As one after the other died, we would reregister the software on a working computer and my son would continue to use it. When the program no longer allowed us to do that, we made a quick phone call and within a minute or two, the activation code was ready to use again. It was easy. No questions asked. I’ve been very happy with their service.

Prior to buying TT, we had read that it was a year behind other curriculums. So we did buy Teaching Textbooks 7 for our 5th grade son (because it was near the end of the year). He used it for the end of the year and then through 6th grade. We bought Algebra 1 for him in 7th grade choosing to skip Pre-Algebra. All I can say is that he loves it and I love love it! I’ve used at least 5 math curriculums and was homeschooled myself with another one. So I’m familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of them. We went from math being a tear filled, daily frustration to an independent empowering learning experience. My son often tells me how much he likes math. That alone makes its worth every penny.

Prior to buying it, I had great hesitation spending so much money on one subject. We are a single income family with a whole bunch of kids, so spending over $150 on math seemed extravagant. I did rationalize that if it “works” then I’ll reuse it for the rest of the kids which would make it less than $30 a year per child…but that up front hit is painful. Having used it for well over a year now, I can attest to its value…well worth the price. Math is essential for functioning in the “real world” and if it can be done in a way that is manageable and even fun, then to me that is worth spending a little more money.

We still use Math U See for some of our younger children and find that it is a great fit, but for our oldest moving into learning independence, Teaching Textbooks provided the quality learning we wanted with time saving convenience that made it a great bargain for me!

Critical Reaction by Todd M. Johnson – A Review

I grew up in a lawyers house. There are a dozen lawyers in my family. The love of law and justice flows through the veins. Growing up, our evenings were often spent with my dad discussing cases we heard about or things in the news. So, it’s no surprise that I enjoy legal novels. I rarely read them though because I haven’t had time to look for great authors that are authentic and exciting. After reading another book by this author a year ago, I’m glad I finally tracked down a copy of Critical Reaction. My poor husband will attest that I neglected the house the day I cracked this book open. He was greatly relieved when I finally came up for air after reading the final page.

critical reaction cover

The story centers on an old Hanford nuclear research center, long closed, that is still monitored for radioactive material until it can be torn down. While doing a routine job, inspecting and checking the facility, an unexpected explosion occurs injuring several workers which eventually leads to a spiral of events that causes doubt, suspicion and fear. Not knowing what chemicals he was exposed to, and finding no help from Hanford who only seems interested in limiting their liability, Kieran decides to purtsue legal action against the giant company with deep pockets and government contracts. What follows is a suspenseful, masterfully told woven tale of uncovering ever so slowly a carefully crafted web of Hanford’s deceit that threatens the lives and well being of anyone willing to expose the lies.

This book is for anyone that enjoys a legal thriller. Like a rollercoast of plot twists, this novel has all the elements of suspense and surprise that make for an exciting read. I highly recommend!

 

 

 

(This review is my own opinion. I received nothing in exchange. I’m thankful to my local library for offering such a great read!)