Everyday Tidbits...

Be Kind. Do Good. Love is a Verb.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Beautiful Mess: The Story of Diamond Rio...Review

About the book:
Can a band comprised of six very talented but very different musicians make a difference with their music?

What made it possible for Diamond Rio to weather the storms inherent in the fickle world of fame and fortune and go more than two decades without a single lineup change? Any reader in search of transparency and a behind-the-scenes look into the life of the band as a unit as well as the individual lives of the players and singers will be well satisfied. Can true loyalty exist within the competitive, seemingly unforgiving music industry? In A Beautiful Mess, Marty Roe, Dan Truman, Jimmy Olander, Brian Prout, Gene Johnson, and Dana Williams each has an entire chapter devoted to his personal and professional life. A Beautiful Mess is a wild ride from the edge of disaster and a little-known secret to an ongoing heart-warming revival.

I love Diamond Rio. They're one of my favorite bands. I had an opportunity to meet them after a concert and I can attest to the fact that they are the genuine article: warm, friendly and down to earth.

In this entertaining story, we see the early beginnings of the band and find out how Diamond Rio became Diamond Rio. Through beginnings at Opryland, circumstances beyond their own control and decisions they made, the band molded itself into the fabulous group they are today. Each member has his own chapter that details the important issues and experiences that brought him to where he is today. We learn about Marty's struggle with his hearing and voice and how he finally faced his fears and sought help when his band members confronted him. The band members are also straight forward and unabashed about sharing their faith in God.

Here you learn that faith and family are important, that perseverance pays off, and that giving back to the community is an integral part of these guys' lives. I was not aware of the amount of charity work that Diamond Rio does.

With family and band photos, this is a fantastic book for any Diamond Rio fan. A terrific story about a terrific group of guys, who truly can be called role models. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thanks to the Thomas Nelson Book Blogger program for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about the book here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

When Jesus Was Born in Bethlehem...Review

About the book:
There is no story to match the drama of the birth of Jesus Christ. The miracle of his conception, Mary's travail and young Joseph's frustrated efforts to find adequate lodging, the rustic setting in which the babe was born, the triumphant angelic announcement, the shepherds' wonder and awe, and the import of His birth have for centuries inspired countless poets, writers, and artists.

...These paintings portray in spectacular fashion the emotions that are at the heart of Christmas—the humble circumstances of His birth, Mary's love for her baby, and the portent of the Savior's mission. In a style reminiscent of the old Masters, the artist has used color, light, and a wonderful grasp of form and composition to create a panorama of beautiful paintings, filled with symbolism and produced exclusively for this magnificent picture book.

Even a glance will reveal that Joseph Brickey has achieved a masterpiece—a spectacular body of art that will enable you and your family to read the Christmas story in a whole new way and transport you to the time when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

This is truly one of the more gorgeous books I've ever seen. The text of the story comes directly from Chapter 2 of Luke in the bible, and simply tells the story about the birth of Jesus Christ. We read this each Christmas Eve.

The illustrations are truly breathtaking. The story of Christ's birth is brought to life so richly, that you can almost imagine yourself part of it all. A beautiful addition to any Christmas collection. This is one book that you will pick up again and again each Christmas.

You can purchase your own copy of this gorgeous book here.

Personal copy reread 12/09

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Day in the Morning...Review

About the book:
Rob wants to get his father something special for Christmas this year -- something that shows how much he really loves him. But it's Christmas Eve, and he doesn't have much money to spend. What could he possibly get? Suddenly, Rob thinks of the best gift of all...

Author of nearly a hundred books for children and adults, and winner of both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, Pearl S. Buck has captured the spirit of Christmas in this elegant, heartwarming story about a boy's gift of love. Originally published in 1955, this classic story is now being issued, for the first time ever, as a picture book with glorious full-color art by acclaimed artist Mark Buehner.

This has always been one of my favorite Christmas stories, and a couple of years ago, my mom gave me this lovely hardcover version of it.

The story opens with a man remembering a long ago Christmas when money was scarce and he wanted to find the best possible gift for his father. Overhearing his father tell his mother how much he hates to waken his son each morning to do the milking, Rob realizes how much his father really does love him. He decides that the gift he will give his father is to do all the milking on Christmas morning, so that his father won't have to do it.

This is a lovely story of selfless love and service. The interactions between father and son are beautiful. An easy book for children to read and a perfect book to read aloud as a family.

You can purchase your own copy of this book here.

Personal copy reread 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Legend of the Candy Cane...Review

About the book:
One dark November night a stranger rides into a small prairie ton. Who is he? Why has he come? The townspeople wish he were a doctor, a dressmaker, or a trader. But, the children have the greatest wish of all, a deep quiet, secret wish.

Then a young girl names Lucy befriends the newcomer. When he reveals his identity and shares with her the legend of the candy cane, she discovers the fulfillment of her wishes and the answer to the town's dreams. Now will she share what she has learned?

A beautiful explanation of the origins and symbolism of the candy cane. As Mr. Sonneman explains the significance of the candy cane to Lucy--the curve, the shape, and even the colors--the symbolism becomes more significant. As they then set out to share this message with the town, Lucy realizes that the love of Christ is something to share with others.

The illustrations are gorgeous and the story is simple, yet profound. The history of the candy cane is fascinating and some sources say that a candy maker in Indian did develop the candy cane as an example of the shepherd's staff and witness of the love of Christ. Whether or not this is, indeed, true is unknown, but the story is a sweet one and I love the thought that something so sweet and tasty can also be a symbol of the love of Jesus Christ.

You can purchase your own copy of this delightful story here.

Personal copy reread 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Friday, December 11, 2009

I Believe in Santa Claus...Review

About the book:
Finally, a book that says it's OK to believe in Santa Claus, yet shows how this time honored symbol is meant to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.

I love this gem of a book. It's very short and very simple, but it draws a beautiful parallel between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ. With beautiful illustrations and explanations of the symbols of Christmas, this is a wonderful addition to any collection of Christmas books. Fun for children to look at and easy for them to read. Santa Claus is a wonderful symbol of Christmas and I, for one, believe in Santa Claus.

You can purchase your own copy here.

Personal copy reread 12/09

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Little Red Buckets...Review

About the book:
Every day, 10-year-old Jenny carries food up the hill to poor, elderly Mr. and Mrs. Nie. As a token of gratitude, Mrs. Nie gives Jenny a crystal angel--her most prized possession. But the greatest gift comes after Jenny's family is struck by tragedy, and Mrs. Nie provides a miraculous Christmas Eve gift-on the wings of an angel-that heals their hearts...

Little Sarah loves baking bread with her Grandma Jenny, and as the bread rises, Grandma Jenny tells Sarah stories from her childhood.

Her story of the little red buckets is a heart-warming one of love and service. As she watches her mother give selflessly to others, Jenny learns about Christ-like love. When she visits with old Mrs. Nie, she learns of guardian angels who look out for each of us. And one, snowy, Christmas Eve, Jenny learns that our guardian angels are those special people we already know and love.

This is a beautiful little story that I re-read every Christmas.

I reviewed my own personal copy. However, you can purchase your own copy of this sweet story here.

Read 12/09

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jacob's Gift...Review

About the book:
Jacob is a young boy with a gift for carpentry who is busy finishing up a project for a contest. His teacher, Rabbi Simeon, not only instructs him in carpentry, but also teaches him important lessons about God. Rabbi has just taught Jacob that when you give a gift to one of God's children, it's like giving a gift to God. The night before the contest while working on his project, Jacob has fallen asleep in the workshop and is awakened by a bright light. The light is a star which is directly over Jacob's father's stable. As he approaches the stable, he sees a man, a woman, and a newborn baby which is laying in the straw.

Remembering what Rabbi Simeon had told him, Jacob returns to the workshop and takes his project (a feeding trough) to the new family. The morning of the contest, the Rabbi pleased to find out that Jacob has acted upon the lesson he learned and has truly given a gift to God.

Jacob has a true gift for woodworking and a desire to please his Rabbi and God. One quiet night, Jacob sees a beautiful star and is drawn to a nearby stable. What he observes changes him and his perspective forever. When he realizes this new baby has no place to sleep, he gives his manger to the new family.

A beautiful story about the birth of Jesus Christ from an unusual perspective. I love rereading this story each year, and I love watching my boys read it. The illustrations are simple and the lessons taught, so important. God has given us His son, and the best thing we can give back is to serve others as we serve Him.

You can purchase your own copy here.

Personal copy reread 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Legend of the Christmas Stocking...Review

About the book:
This wonderful Christmas tale, set in the late 1800s, shares the touching story of a young boy named Peter. He sells newspapers to help his family while his father is away at sea, and he’s been saving a bit of his earnings to buy a model schooner in the woodworker’s shop. But after Uncle Jim, the woodworker, tells him the story of St. Nicholas, Peter discovers the meaning behind the hanging and filling of Christmas stockings and learns a heartfelt lesson in kindness and generosity.

Filled with the rich, realistic illustrations of Jim Griffin, children ages 4 to 8 will discover the depth of God's love shown through others as they learn the Christian meaning revealed in The Legend of the Christmas Stocking.

One of my favorite Christmas stories. This tells the legend of how the filling of the stocking came to be a symbol of Christmas. Peter's father is at sea and no one knows when he is expected back. Peter has been selling newspapers to save money to buy a model ship. After he learns the story of Nicholas, a generous man who shared his fortune with others, Peter begins to realize the importance of faith and family. His generosity blesses his mother and sisters, even as a Christmas surprise awaits him.

A lovely story of how generosity and kindness to others blesses you. The illustrations are gorgeous. Children and adults alike will enjoy this beautiful Christmas book which shows us that while the legend of Santa Claus progressed over the ages, the origins of the story are rooted in the Christian belief of service to others.

You can purchase your own copy of this special book here.

Personal copy reread 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Everyday Greatness by Stephen R. Covey...Review

About the book:
Inspiring stories and practical insights challenge readers to live a life of everyday greatness.

Best-selling author Stephen Covey and Reader's Digest have joined forces to produce an extraordinary volume of inspiration, insight, and motivation to live a life of character and contribution. The timeless principles and practical wisdom along with a "Go-Forward Plan" challenge readers to make three important choices every day:

  1. The Choice to Act - your energy
  2. The Choice of Purpose - your destination
  3. The Choice for Principles - the means for attaining your goals
Topics include:
  • Searching for Meaning
  • Taking Charge
  • Starting Within
  • Creating the Dream
  • Teaming with Others
  • Overcoming Adversity
  • Blending the Pieces
With stories from some of the world's best known and loved writers, leaders, and celebrities, such as Maya Angelou, Jack Benny, and Henry David Thoreau, and insights and commentary from Stephen Covey, the Wrap Up and Reflections at the end of each chapter help create a project that can be used for group or personal study.

I love story collections and compilations. I enjoy picking up a book, reading a short story or two and coming away inspired to do better or be better.

Stephen R. Covey, along with Reader's Digest, has compiled a wonderful book full of moving stories. Everyday Greatness is a way of living, not something you do one time for fame and glory. We all have people we look up to because these individuals are simply good people with qualities we admire: hard work, respectful, dependable, kind, etc.

Stephen Covey says that there are 3 choices we make every day: The Choice to Act; The Choice of Purpose; and the The Choice for Principles. The stories in this collection are from people who have made these choices. With 7 sections that highlight a total of 21 values, there is something to inspire each and every one of us. Each value ends with a wrap-up summary and reflection and additional short quotes.

A wonderful addition to any library, this is an enjoyable book to have nearby so you can read a story or section and come away inspired and ready to try harder. Easily recommended.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishers for the opportunity to review this book.

Read 11/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Monday, December 7, 2009

English Trifle...Review

About the book:
High Crimes at High Tea 
Things to Do in England: Visit Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and the London Zoo. Take the Jack the Ripper tour. Creepy! Sample authentic English scones and crumpets. Discover a dead body.

What begins as a holiday trip for amateur sleuth and cooking aficionado Sadie Hoffmiller and her daughter, Breanna, turns into a bizarre mystery when they discover a dead body in the sitting room of an English manor. Breanna's boyfriend, Liam, is heir to both the family title and the family estate of Southgate, where everyone seems to have a secret . . . or two. 

When the body in the sitting room disappears, Sadie and Breanna are stranded at the estate until the police can clear them to leave. With their departure delayed, they might as well solve the murder. Armed with a jogging whistle, her personal recipe collection, and an unfailing sense of American justice, Sadie begins her own investigation to find the killer. 

But as Sadie uncovers layer after layer of misdirection, secrets, and outright lies, she wonders if anyone is telling the truth or if the case is really as hopeless as it appears to be. Take a missing family history, toss in a secret romance, mix with a mysterious murder, and this is one vacation Sadie will never forget.

A sequel to Lemon Tart, this is the second in the Sadie Hoffmiller Culinary Mystery series. And, this novel is just as much fun! Sadie Hoffmiller returns and manages to find death and mayhem in upper crust England.

Sadie and her daughter Breanna are off to visit England with Breanna's boyfriend, Liam, who is heir to an English title and a fancy English estate, complete with servants and a dead body in the living room.

The body disappears, the staff have secrets and the British police are inept. In true Hoffmiller fashion, Sadie decides that she is better equipped to find the murderer than any British inspectors. And if she can learn how to make crumpets along the way, so much the better!

Like Lemon Tart, this one is laugh out loud funny in places. Sadie is funny and forthright and determined to find out the truth. Like an English Trifle dessert, she uncovers layer after layer of secrets as she works her way through the manor, the staff, Liam's family history and the kitchen!

A fun, easy read, Josi has also included lots of fun recipes, including some authentic English ones. While I had a hard time following all the details of how titles are passed on, and who was who, it didn't detract from the story at all. Definitely recommended!

Thanks to my local library for a copy I could borrow! You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Christmas Jars...Review

About the book:
Where had it come from? Whose money was it? Was I to spend it? Save it? Pass it on to someone more needy? Above all else, why was I chosen? Certainly there were others, countless others, more needy than me...

Her reporter's intuition insisted that a remarkable story was on the verge of the front page. Newspaper reporter Hope Jensen uncovers the remarkable secret behind the "Christmas Jars", glass jars filled with coins and bills anonymously left for people in need. But along the way, Hope discovers much more than the origin of the jars. When some unexpected news sets off a chain reaction of kindness, Hope's greatest Christmas Eve wish comes true.

The first time I read The Christmas Jars I liked the premise, but didn't think too highly of the writing. I enjoyed the book, but it didn't move me all that much. I thought it was a nice Christmas book, but that was all.

This year when I reread it, I reacted differently. Perhaps it's where I am in my life now, as opposed to where I was the first time I read it. Who knows? This time around I enjoyed it even more. Oh, I still didn't love the writing, and it's got all the hallmarks of a good Christmas story: enough sweetness, some predictability and the requisite sentimental cheese. Some have said it's forced and contrived. But, I think it also has a wonderful premise: the joy that comes from serving others. And that premise is what touched me this time around.

Christmas stories, by nature, are short and easily read in one or two sittings. It's difficult to have fully developed characters in these short stories. The point of Christmas stories is to help the reader feel the Christmas spirit. The Christmas Jars does that. As you follow Hope's quest to find out who gave her the Christmas jar and, along the way, meet the almost too perfect Maxwell family, you have that involuntary, tender tug at your heartstrings: could you really not only start, but also give away a Christmas Jar yourself?

A sweet book you can read in an hour or so. I'm glad I picked it up again, and I see myself rereading this each Christmas.

You can purchase your own copy here. You can learn more about Jason Wright here and true stories of Christmas Jars here.

Personal copy reread 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thanksgiving at the Inn...Review

About the book:
Ever since his mother left, life has't been easy for Heath Wellington III. Between his father's (Junior's) bouts with alcoholism and literary rejection, and Heath's own wrongful suspension from school, there hasn't been all that much to be thankful for.

But following the tragic death of estranged grandfather Senior, father and son alike stand to inherit a life-changing fortune . . . with one catch.
Heath and Junior must spend the next three months managing Senior's bed and breakfast, located in the same Massachusetts home Junior has spent the last eight years trying to escape.

Upended from his everyday life and relocated to a town where everyone knew and loved the grandfather he can't even remember, Heath finds an inn full of some of the strangest people he's ever met, such as:

* Winsted, the old, wise Jamaican man who used to lead the prayers in Senior's factory;

* Mrs. Farrel, an elderly woman giving away her late husband's fortune letter by letter;

* Mustang Sally, the muscle-bound, tattooed grease monkey who doubles as a children's author;

* And Carter, the silent TV news junkie and secret Harvard graduate.

And, at a nearby school is Savannah, Junior's first love, and her adorable, autistic daughter, Tori.

But most of all, there's Junior himself, vinegar to Heath's oil. As Heath adjusts to his new world, what he needs most is to start anew with his father, to understand that Junior, too, is dealing with loss, and to realize that, even in the most tragic of times, there's a lot in life to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving at the Inn is a beautiful story of family and forgiveness, and a sure holiday classic. Tim Whitney's fantastic, heartwarming debut is one you'll want to read with the whole family for years and years to come.

Heath is a delightful, thoughtful boy who struggles with finding his place in life. He craves his father's love, but all Junior can seem to do is criticize and neglect him. Like many fathers and sons, Heath and Junior butt heads and can't seem to get along, and Junior's own struggle with alcoholism and finding his own place in life, doesn't help the situation. Once Heath and his father arrive at the inn, however, Heath finds the family he's always dreamed about having, even as his own father grows more distant. The other residents take him in and, from them, he begins to learn about love and gratitude, and even begins to understand his father a little better.

I think that this is a terrific book to read any time of year, but it's particularly heartwarming to read during the holidays when gratitude and family are at the forefront of people's lives. While the target audience is middle school age, it is certainly a book for all ages. I loved Heath and Winstead and Sally. I found the characters fairly well developed and certainly likeable. Some might say the story is predictable, but I loved the lessons that Heath and his father learned: the true meaning of gratitude; that family is important; and being there for someone else really just might make a difference.

This was a charming novel and a terrific debut for Tim Whitney.

Thanks to Harrison Demchick of Bancroft Press for the opportunity to review this book. You can purchase your own copy of this terrific book here.

Read 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Christmas Kitchen: The Gathering Place for Making Memories...Review

About the book:
The Heart of the Home
Even in today's busy times, the kitchen is the heart of the home. Author Tammy Maltby believes the true meaning of Christmas is realized when families gather to share activities that make Christmas "the most wonderful time of the year." More than any other holiday, Christmas is when family and friends gather for a cup of hot chocolate, fresh-baked cookies, and lots of laughter.

Look inside this holiday treasure for:
- Easy-to-do holiday recipes
- Hints for new traditions
- Personal gift ideas
- Kid-friendly activities
- Simple decorating tips

The Christmas Kitchen is more than a recipe book, it's a book designed to help you enjoy the holiday season, not be burdened by it. Take a few minutes each day to browse these pages for the help you've been looking for.

Merry Christmas and may your kitchen be filled, first, with the sweet aroma of love, and then with the spices of the season.

A beautiful little novelty book full of ideas and recipes for celebrating Christmas. From decorating, planning ahead, cooking with children and the importance of traditions, this little gem is sure to be a hit. It's beautifully illustrated with photos that include the author and her family.

It's an easy book to browse through and, along the way, gain a new idea or insight to help you with your Christmas planning and celebrations. If I have one complaint, it would be that there isn't a photo for each recipe. I always want to see a finished product! This doesn't detract, however, from the book at all. It would make a lovely gift.

Thanks to First Wildcard and Jennifer Willingham at Simon and Schuster for the opportunity to review this book. You can peruse some of the book here. You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 12/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Against All Odds...Review

About the book:
For FBI Hostage Rescue Team member Evan Cooper and his partner, dignitary protection duty should have been a piece of cake. Unfortunately, Monica Callahan isn't making it easy. Estranged from her diplomat father--who is involved in a sensitive hostage situation in the Middle East--she refuses to be intimidated by a related terrorist threat back in the States. That is, until a chilling warning convinces her that the danger is very real--and escalating. As Coop and his partner do their best to keep her safe, Monica's father triggers an abduction that puts his daughter's life at risk. And with every second that ticks by, Coop knows that the odds of saving the only woman who has ever breached the walls around his heart are dropping. After all, terrorists aren't known for their patience--or their mercy. Book one in the Heroes of Quantico series, this suspense-filled novel will whisk readers along for the thrilling ride.

An exciting, easy read, the story alternates between Monica and Coop's story, Monica's father and the Middle East terrorists. With a great mix of romance and suspense, it's light Christian and enjoyable. Monica's faith is strong, even as she struggles with forgiving her father, and Coop's faith strengthens as a result of his experiences.

Irene Hannon has a gift for conversation and repartee and I enjoyed the interactions between the characters. I read the book in an evening; it's a perfect read for a quiet afternoon or evening when you simply want a little escape.

The first in the Heroes of Quantico series, it's the second Irene Hannon book I've actually read. And, like An Eye for an Eye, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It stands alone well, but it also sets up characters that will follow in subsequent books.

Thanks to my local library for having a copy of this book that I could borrow. You can find out more about Irene Hannon here. You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 11/09

* * * *
4/5 Stars