Sunday, December 29, 2013

What happened to Public Enemy Number 1?

Was Alcatraz the best thing that ever happened to Al Capone?  The notorious gangster was originally sent to a prison in Georgia on a conviction of tax evasion, but was moved to Alcatraz after law enforcement realized he was receiving special treatment.  While in Alcatraz, Capone attended a church service held by a traveling preacher.  It was at this service that he requested prayer and admitted a need for a savior.  Time Magazine quoted Thweatt (the preacher) as saying  "At the close of the talk, Capone's face seemed to radiate, and when I asked those prisoners to stand who felt the need and will to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, he was the first to rise."
Only a few months after Capone's conversion, dementia set in.  Even with a degenerative mental illness, he continued to profess Christianity until his death in 1947.  He was buried in a consecrated cemetery reserved only for believers.  When the Catholic church was questioned about their decision to allow Capone to be buried next to his father in the consecrated cemetery, the priest replied that the Catholic church recognized Capone's penitence (repentance) and salvation.
You can confirm this data yourself by reading the March 24, 1939 edition of the Los Angeles Times.  This article was also ran by the St. Petersburg Times on March 25, 1939.
It is widely accepted that Al Capone was a notorious mobster responsible for much crime including -although it has never been proven! - the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, where 7 gangsters were gunned down with each one having no less than 15 shots fired into them (photo of actual crime scene shown below).
 God gave salvation to Chicago's Public Enemy Number 1, and He will give it to you as well.
According to the Bible, God offers salvation to anyone who will accept it (John 3:16), and because we have all screwed up everyone needs salvation.  (See Romans 3:10-12 and 3:23).  God sent his son, Jesus, to die for us (Romans 5:8).  If we accept Christ as our Savior, it doesn't matter how terrible our past is -- the future is bright (Romans 8:1).  This verse reads, "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus."  This promise is good for everyone who belongs to Christ -- it doesn't exclude anyone because of their past.
If you've ever wondered exactly how to get from being where you are now to being a child of God, it's pretty simple.  A sincere prayer in your own words reflecting what is on your heart is all that is necessary.  I've provided a sample prayer here, but you can use your own words.  
"Father God, thank you for your son, Jesus.  I'm a sinner, and I know I cannot save myself.  I need a Savior.  Jesus, I believe you died for my sins.  I believe you rose from the grave.  Please forgive me of my sins.  I turn to you, Jesus.  Come into my heart, fill me with your Hold Spirit, and make me the person you want me to be.  Thank you, Lord Jesus.  Amen."

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sweet Mercy - Ann Tatlock

Sweet Mercy by Ann Tatlock is a well written novel about a young lady in the midst of entering adulthood.  Eve is faced with the knowledge that someone she loves is a criminal and not turning him would make her a criminal, too.  As an adolescent, she sees everything in black and white.  The grayness of the situation confuses her, and she is forced to re-evaluate everything she has believed about right and wrong.
As I read this novel I saw quite a bit of myself in Eve.  I could relate to her journey from a black-and-white, judgmental mentality to a more empathetic, understanding being.  This is a difficult journey for one who wishes to be empathetic to others without compromising their own personal convictions.
On the back of the book the description begins by saying that this is a "stunning coming-of-age drama set during the Great Depression and prohibition."  I found this to be a very accurate statement.  I was drawn back to my own coming of age days as an adolescent constantly trying to determine where she stands on a multitude of subjects.  I don't think this novel could have been better written.  I am a better person for having read it.
There is some romance in the book, but very little as compared to the Christian fiction romance genre.  I would consider this to be in a slightly broader, historical fiction genre.  It is a deeper read than most of the books published by Bethany House, but the quality of the writing and plot is consistent with the Bethany House reputation.
In my opinion, Ann Tatlock's experience is reflected in this novel, as I am sure it is in her over twenty other novels already released.  Ann won the 2012 Christy Award for the Contemporary/Standalone category.
This book was a free gift from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Conair Infiniti Pro Spin Air Rotating Styler



Round brush + hair dryer.  I recently came into ownership of what is possibly one of the best inventions for hair styling in the last ten years.  All those years spent trying to round brush your own hair so you could look like you walked out of a salon?  Wasted once you try this gadget.  It does it for you!
As a cosmetologist myself, I can vouch that round brush styling is a craft that takes a while to master.  Now, you don't even have to try -- just partially dry your hair using your regular hair dryer.  Before it is completely dry, start using the spin dryer on sections of hair until you have finished your hair.  Easy peezi.  You may have seen this on TV before, and - yes - it works EXACTLY as advertised.
One caveat is that because the barrel is equivalent to a 2" round brush (that's a big one) it works best on medium to long hair.  I love it for my hair, which is just above shoulder length.  However, it doesn't work for the back of my head which has shorter layers than the front.  That said, I use this tool every single time I dry my hair now.  It adds volume and curl that sticks around until the next shampoo.
This retails for $59.99, but you can find it on sale at Walgreens every now and then for $49.99 or at Amazon for around $39.99.
Thank you, Conair, for coming up with this handy tool!  Now... if you can just make a smaller size in this, say... 1.25"?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Bride for Keeps - Melissa Jagears

I am very excited that I got to read my first Melissa Jagears novel!  In A Bride for Keeps main character Julia agrees to move to Kansas to marry a friend of a friend.  Everette isn't expecting her and has had bad luck with mail order brides before.  After four bad experiences, he gives up on the marriage market.  This story is about how two very different people marry while still strangers and learn to love each other.
I have to admit that the mail-order bride theme is my all-time favorite plot.  It can be spun in different ways, and it never lets me down.  This book is no exception.  The author did a fantastic job creating these characters and the plot is fascinating.  I was hooked the entire way through the book.
My only critique is that I didn't find the attraction quite tangible enough.  I think it would have been more interesting if Julia's conflict had been increased by an attraction to Everette.  In other words, I didn't think her attraction to him came through at all in the book until the very end.  It seemed to me like she was forcing herself to reconcile to the idea of being attracted to him while he, meanwhile, was fighting emotions.
I saw another review that said this book was "physical."  It is most definitely not physical.  I may have misunderstood that reviewer, but in my opinion it erred on the conservative side even when compared to other Christian fiction.  The author did a very tasteful job of highlighting Julia's past abuse and did not directly spell anything out.  It took me until close to the end to make sense of exactly how she had been abused.
Overall, my opinion is that this is an extremely talented writer with a gift for storytelling.  I'll keep an eye out for more books with her name on them!
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective, unbiased review.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Rosemary Cottage - Colleen Coble

Colleen Coble hits a home run again with her newest novel Rosemary Cottage!  Rosemary Cottage is the second in her Hope Beach series.  The first book in the series is Tidewater Inn, which I also had the pleasure of reading.
Both books will hook the reader right from the very beginning.  In my opinion, Colleen Coble's strength is in mystery and she wields her power well in the Hope Beach series.  The ominous presence of mystery resides on Hope Beach, but romance and encouragement are still present.
After reading countless books written by this talented author, the Hope Beach series is so far my favorite!
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

A Most Peculiar Circumstance - Jen Turano


So far, I have had the privilege of reading both the first and second books in the "Ladies of Distinction" series.  The first, A Change of Fortune, was a spectacular hit and I couldn't wait to get my hands on A Most Peculiar Circumstance.  
One thing I like very much about Jen Turano's writing is that she keeps the characters from the previous books in her series involved as the series grows, so the characters you know and love from the first book reappear in the second book.  
Another thing that keeps me reading her books is that the plots are wild and crazy.  There are no limits to the creativity of her imagination.  I always feel like I am on a rollercoaster ride.  
This particular book started with the main character in jail and a handsome rescuer saving the day.  The romance and mystery wound up in the book kept me tuned in the entire time.  Even with my crazy, packed-out schedule I found time to squeeze this book in.  If you like golden era romance/mysteries, you'll love A Most Peculiar Circumstance!
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Colleen Coble’s “Rosemary Cottage” Nautical Summer Giveaway

Rosemary-Cottage-Blogger-button

Water can be calming and healing, but it can also be dangerous, as Amy Lange and Curtis Ireland both found out. Both lost their siblings to the sea, and they hope to find healing on Hope Island. But will they find it, or will their quest to find answers set them at odds with each other and with those who have secrets that need to stay hidden?

Find out in Colleen Coble’s latest book, Rosemary Cottage, which released July 9. To celebrate, Colleen is hosting a 12-day Nautical Summer Giveaway. From July 16-27, Colleen will be giving away a new nautical prize every day. She’ll announce the winners on July 29 on her website, so mark your calendars for that date to see if you were picked as a lucky winner!

Not on Facebook? Enter here.

A Bride for All Seasons: The Mail Order Bride Collection

A Bride for All Seasons: The Mail Order Bride Collection is an instant favorite of mine, because all four novels are bundled into one paperback.  The authors are different for each book, so I never got bored.  I hope the publisher considers doing more collections like this one.
All four stories center around The Hitching Post, a catalog with advertisements for marriage.  Unfortunately, the editor fabricates a few minor changes to the ads to make the people a bit more appealing.  This is a fun, spunky set of novels that had me laughing my way through the 1890's.  It's light and enjoyable -- perfect as a vacation treat.  I highly recommend it and would like to thank the authors and publishers for the chance to review A Bride for All Seasons.
This novel collection was a complimentary gift from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

InstantCertOnline.com

I love to CLEP courses. There's really not a whole lot better than taking one test and passing an entire course. Taking a CLEP exam costs roughly $100 after fees and a course costs so much more along with the time you spend working on it.  
For sociology, I ordered a book on Amazon, and by the time it had gotten here I had already studied and passed using InstantCertOnline.com. I am now using BenchPrep for chemistry (only because InstantCert doesn't offer a chemistry study guide), and although it is a jazzier site aesteically, the Instant Cert site was far more effective. If you are good at memorizing, then this is definitely the way to go. I studied for less than a week and nailed the exam. I also used InstantCert to clep Computer Information & Applications and US History I. Three cleps in 3 weeks is basically a summer's worth of classes for me.  
Here is a discount code... 68970. It will get you $5 off your first month, but you definitely won't need it for more than a month. I did all three exams within the first month, so I basically paid $15 to study and clep 3 exams. I'm pretty pumped. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Once Upon a Prince - Rachel Hauck

I have had the pleasure of reading a novel or two from Rachel Hauck, and I can vouch that they are always delightful. This one is no exception, and is in fact my favorite so far.  It doesn't matter how old you get, girls love a prince and princess love story.  They are shockingly rare in the Christian women's fiction genre, but Rachel Hauck is here at the rescue!
Believe it or not, I thought the storyline was one that women could easily relate to.  It starts off striking a familiar chord for many.  You know that chord... Will he ever marry me?  Followed by the gut-wrenching realization that he... won't.  Then, the best possible scenario comes along.  I won't spoil the plot, but this story of redemption is exactly what women need.
I loved, loved, loved the plot and am overjoyed that we can look forward to more in this series.  I can't wait to see what Rachel has for us next!
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Monday, May 27, 2013

When Love Calls - Lorna Seilstad

When Love Calls is the first novel and brand new release in the new "Gregory Sisters" series by Lorna Seilstad!  This fun novel is about an independent-thinking young woman who takes a straight-laced job as a telephone operator to provide for herself and her sisters.  Unfortunately, she and her sisters are evicted from their family's home and have to resettle.  They can't do it without asking for help.
I loved the main character's independent nature.  She has pride, but didn't let it get in the way of asking for help when one of her sisters needed it most.  I definitely got the impression the strong-minded chick wouldn't have done the same if it had been herself in trouble.
The protagonist was likeable and sweet.  Exactly the type of personality to pair with Hannah Gregory's character.
I think this novel will appeal to a wide range of readers and is even a safe bet as a gift.  The writing is light and keeps moving the plot along.  The characters are well written and the historical research shines through.  I enjoyed this book very much and would highly recommend it.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Money saving tip from a mom of 5... BigCrumbs

I shop online more than I shop in stores.  If you've ever taken kids into a retail store you can imagine why this mom of five avoids them like the plague.  Not that I don't love shopping -- I do!  My husband can attest to that.  But if you think like I do and like things delivered (free, the majority of the time) to your own front door you'll also appreciate saving an extra 2-5% or so every time you order anything.  
Just open a BigCrumbs account and whenever you shop online go to BigCrumbs and choose the retailer you love.  Place your order as you normally do, then get that deposit in your PayPal account next month.  Awesome!

If you are still stuck on Ebates, this is a much better alternative...  Here is a comparison:
  • Higher cash back percentages than Ebates.
  • Pays forever each time your referrals shop.  Ebates does not.
  • Pays monthly.  Ebates pays only every 3 months.
  • Payment minimum is only a dollar.  Ebates' payment minimum is $5.01.
  • They both offer over 1,500 stores.
  • BigCrumbs does profit-sharing with the members.  Ebates does not.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Couponing for the Rest of Us: The Not-So-Extreme Guide to Saving More - Kasey Knight Trenum

As soon as I saw this book I knew it was written for me.  I've seen the Extreme Couponing shows on TV and they really get me fired up.  BUT (and this is a big "but") it just isn't realistic for me.  In fact, it seems like a lot of big stores have tightened their coupon policies since the shows started airing.  That makes it harder for the regular people to get the most out of their coupons.
Kasey Knight Trenum has put together a reasonable outline for us to get the biggest bang for our buck.  You probably aren't going to check out with thousands of dollars of groceries for less than a hundred bucks, but you will most definitely find something in here that helps you be the money-savvy person that you long to be.
Let me also say that the length of the book is perfect.  It's not too long that I got lost in the process.  My only small critique is that I thought it spent a bit too much time selling me on the process of couponing.  I had already made the decision to coupon and was anxious to get down to the nitty-gritty.  That said, it's nice to know your readers highly anticipate the material, right?
Thank you, Kasey, for simplifying the coupon concept in such a way that we can "get it."  I do recommend this book, and I expect it will become one of my "loaners."
This book was a free gift from the publisher in exchange for my unbiased review.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Love at Any Cost - Julie Lessman

This quirky novel by Julie Lessman is a blast!  It was so much fun to imagine myself as the heiress with empty pockets dodging insincere gold diggers.  What's not to love about that?!   It had a few sad parts as the main character can't seem to find genuine love, but overall it was a hoot.  I have read several of Julie Lessman's novels and have never been disappointed.
Love at Any Cost is the first book in The Heart of San Francisco series.  Luckily, #2 in the series has already been released!  You can look for Dare to Love at your nearest bookstore when you go in for Love at Any Cost!
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Sweet Sanctuary - Kim Vogel Sawyer

I enjoyed this slow-paced novel by Kim Vogel Sawyer.  It was perfect for a rainy day or relaxing in the shade.
It is set in early World War I and is about Lydia's quest to legally adopt the son her dying friend asked her to take.  Now - 4 years later - his father shows up demanding custody.  When her son is kidnapped she calls on the help of a not-so-close friend.  The romance is minimal, but the storyline is sweet.  The plot seems to be more about Lydia's quest to legally adopt her son.
I enjoyed the book, but did not feel much connection between the two main characters.  The threat to her son's safety was well-written.  I admit I was a bit disappointed in the ending.  All in all, the book was well-paced and relaxing.  I carried it with me wherever I went, because it held my attention the entire time.  While some women's books come off superficial, the seriousness of Sweet Sanctuary is refreshing.  I would recommend it for the discriminating reader.
This was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Duchess - Susan May Warren

Before I get started on the review, I'd like to let you know that there is a fun giveaway going for the Duchess blog tour!  Now for my thoughts...
Susan May Warren is a genius writer.  This is the third in a series of three novels.  The plot is so intricate in this one novel alone I have no idea how she was able to write three of these in only two years.  The book centers around Roxy Price, a Hollywood movie star.  Susan May Warren includes many details regarding movie making of the 1920's-1930's.  That is what makes this book so unique.  I've never read anything like it before.  For the first time ever I was transported back in time to a day where Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe were fighting for successful careers.  It's as though this was written by someone who has first-hand experience in the movie industry.
If you read this book as a stand-alone novel, you'll be quite happy.  However, I don't recommend it...  The book is so good you'll probably finish it and regret not starting at the beginning so you could enjoy this entire series.  Start first with Heiress, then Baroness, then finish with Duchess.
If you like a novel you can spend time reading, this is a good one for that.  There won't be any speed reading here.  I read a little slower than normal to digest every bit of this fantastic story.  I didn't want to miss a beat. Page for page, you'll get more reading time from this novel than its competitors.
In a nutshell, this ranks as one of my favorites so far this year.  I'll be sure to stay tuned to what Susan May Warren brings us next!
This was a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

A Noble Groom - Jody Hedlund

After reading A Noble Groom, I am setting out to find a list of Jody Hedlund books and send them to my Kindle.  It was fantastic!  I loved every minute of it.
This story about am escaped prisoner who ends up as an almost-mail-order husband.  He ends up staying around to help until the family receives their real husband, which turns out to be quite a bit longer than he planned on.
The plot is well thought out and believable.  The author had me rooting for him all along.  This book is a must read, and I've already loaned it out to a friend.  I absolutely recommend it.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Child of Mine by Carter's Baby Bouncer in Safari Party

I am thrilled with this purchase.  I went to the baby section in Wal-Mart specifically looking for a bouncer.  They had a very good selection, and I knew I would come away with something.  I was just about to buy the InGenuity bouncer for $46.98 then I saw this one for $35.  It has all the same features as the InGenuity -- padded fasteners for comfort, soft chamois-like fabric, and optional music with volume control.  The colors are soothing and don't draw attention to the "baby gear" we have
Also, I was able to put this together in no time without any tools.  Most importantly, my baby loves it.  He calms down quickly once I put him in.  You can't put a price on that!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Graco Duo 2 in 1 Swing with Plug


I love this swing/bouncer combo, but I had to return it because the food tray is a pain in the rear. If I could remove the tray from the unit I would absolutely keep this. However, it's in the way, I can't see my baby well with it on, and it pops up and refuses to fasten down.
The electric cord on this is a lifesaver, though. As a parent I HATE batteries. You can turn this swing on and let it do its job all day long without worrying about running down the batteries. FYI, the bouncer does require a D battery, though.
The colors are relaxing and contemporary. Overall an attractive set. Too bad the tray is a dealbreaker.

Swept Away - Mary Connealy

Swept Away is the first novel in the brand new Trouble in Texas series by Mary Connealy.  I have had the pleasure of reading several of Connealy's novels and have never been disappointed.  They are fun, light, and exciting.  I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and I'm sure you will too.
Ruthie barely escapes a wagon accident only to find herself stuck with Luke Stone, who is bent on revenge.  The characters both go through positive changes.  The author works in some criminal activity, which really amps up the drama.
The characters introduced are lovable, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series!
This was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shattered - Dani Pettrey

Shattered is the second book in the Alaskan Courage series by Dani Pettrey.  I didn't have the pleasure of reading the first one, but I was very impressed with this novel. 
As a reader of women's Christian fiction I don't often see contemporary fiction available.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, since I love historical fiction.  That said, this was such a refreshing change from the norm.  The author put together not only a unique setting but a killer plot.  It was fast-paced right from the first chapter with a CSI kind of feel. 
When Piper's brother is arrested and charged with the murder of his girlfriend Piper believes him when he says he's innocent.  The cop that is helping put him away takes a leave from work to research the case more thoroughly.  The more he finds out about the victim the more the murder seems like a mob job.  But is it?  For the sake of not spoiling the plot, I won't tell you. 
The book is extremely fast paced and there is a lot of data to keep straight.  It makes for one of the most exciting books I've read in the last twelve months.  Next time I want a thriller, I'll be looking up Dani Pettrey.  Thank you for a fantastic novel!
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

All in Good Time - Maureen Lang

I've read several of Maureen Lang's novels including Bees in the Butterfly Garden and Whisper on the Wind.  However, All in Good Time is by far my favorite!  The characters were real, the setting was fascinating, and I enjoyed both of the main male characters, Henry Hawkins and Turk Foster. 
The book is set in the red light district of early Denver, CO.  Dessa takes out a loan to fulfill her dream of setting up a safehouse for women who wish to get out of prostitution.  Funds are tight, and both she and the banker that lent her the funds are nervous.  When Turk Foster, a rake from the district, takes a personal interest in Dessa things heat up a bit.  As it turns out, he's not the only one interested in her - the cold-shouldered banker, Henry Hawkins, is too. 
The author did a fantastic job characterizing the girls finding refuge at Pierson House.  Every detail is in place.  I couldn't put this book down.  This is exactly the kind of book I look for when I shop for myself. 
It's rare that an author goes to the trouble of bonding the reader with more characters than the main two.  Here, I bonded with several.  Specifically, I would have liked to see more of Turk Foster.  My only recommendation is that a second novel be written about Turk's story, but I have a feeling that's not to be.  Nevertheless, if the author can capture the essence of his character and write another novel similar in tone to this one I will be first in line to get a copy.
All in Good Time is book two in the Gilded Legacy series, with Bees in the Butterfly Garden as number one.  However, I've read both and can't see any connection whatsoever between the two books with the obvious exception of the era.  I wasn't impressed with Bees, but All in Good Time is worth every minute of reading time.  Who knows?  I may read it again just for kicks. 
Once again, this is the best of Maureen Lang.  I can't recommend it enough. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Love in the Balance - Regina Jennings

As far as I could tell, Love in the Balance is a stand-alone novel... technically.  However, you'll enjoy it more if you read Sixty Acres and a Bride first.  I did have the pleasure of reading the books in this order, and I recognized several characters.  After realizing these two books were related the plot really started coming alive.
Molly's parents have high hopes she will marry a rich investor willing to save their mill.  Bailey doesn't have much to his name, but he loves Molly.  At the same time, a wealthy tycoon whirls into town and tries to sweep Molly off her feet.
Since in most romance novels the underdog wins, my expectations were that this would be a basic love triangle with Bailey handily coming out the winner.  However, Regina Jennings is more sober-minded, and this novel is not a lightweight romance.  I really felt like I was reading at least a two part novel.
My interest stayed focused on the book the entire time.  It was a thicker book, so I think you'll feel like you got your money's worth.  I do recommend it (along with Sixty Acres).  It's worth buying and putting on your "keeper shelf."
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Graco Travel Lite Playard Crib - Luna

This Travel Lite has been a blessing!  We use it constantly.  It's small enough to wheel through narrow doorways, glides across the floor smoothly, and the ruffles are a beautiful aesthetic touch.  This is almost exactly half the size of a full size Graco play yard.  The height is equivalent to the height of our bed, making the bassinet our mainstay.  I can park this everywhere due to its compact size.  I even wheel it to our home office so I can have the baby beside me at the desk.  When the baby outgrows the bassinet feature, I'll continue to use it as a play yard.  We still have a full size Graco, but the Travel Lite is by far my favorite.  Props for the pleasant colors and cute print as well.
Available at Target.com.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Moonlight Masquerade - Ruth Axtell

I love Regency romance novels in the Christian women's fiction genre, and this one is perfect.  The author, Ruth Axtell, mixes exactly the right blend of mystery and romance in her new novel Moonlight Masquerade.  Axtell is an experienced writer with several books out, but this is actually my first chance to read one of her novels.  I loved it!
There are so many plots that begin with a maid who falls in love with the master of the house, but this was my first time ever seeing it backwards.  That is, the butler (who is really a government spy) falls in love with the mistress of the mansion he is sent to investigate.  And his primary suspect is the lady herself!
This will go down as one of the most creative spins on Regency romance novels I've seen yet.  It was refreshing to read something so different and well-written.
I lost hours of sleep reading through it, so keep in mind this would be a good one to buy and keep ready for a long weekend.  Enjoy!
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Recipe for Make Ahead Chicken Parmesan

I am due any day with our fifth child, and this time around I wanted to make and freeze plenty of food in advance so we wouldn't be eating out as much after the baby is born.  I am aware that you can buy a variety of chicken already prepared in the frozen section of grocery stores, but I wanted ours to be healthy and homemade.  So, I developed this simple recipe for chicken Parmesan. We prepared and froze thirteen pounds of chicken.  It was used for the first time a couple nights ago.  Not only was it a hit for dinner that night, but my four year old wanted chicken for breakfast instead of cereal!  I had baked a double batch so we had plenty of leftovers.  I was curious as to how well it would reheat in the microwave the following day.  Cha-ching!  Just as good if not better.  Since this recipe was such a hit with our family, I am going to share it with you.

Make Ahead Chicken Parmesan:
Fresh (not frozen) chicken breasts - thin-sliced if you can find them
French bread - some grocery stores have a "day old" section where the price is reduced.  Day old is even better.
Shredded Parmesan cheese
Italian seasoning
Lowry's garlic salt with parsley
Eggs
2-gallon freezer Zip-Loc bags

Pasta sauce
Mozzarella or Italian blend shredded cheese
Italian seasoning

Prep day:
  1. In a large bowl, crack as many eggs as you have pounds of chicken.  Whisk.
  2. Thin slice your chicken breasts if they aren't already.  Place in the bowl with egg to soak.
  3. While the chicken is soaking, chop the French bread and send it through a food processor until crumbly.  Add Italian seasoning and Parmesan to food processor and give it a few extra pulses until mixed.  Spread bread crumbs out into a large cookie sheet.
  4. In a separate large cookie sheet lay out the chicken and sprinkle with garlic salt.  Flip.  Sprinkle garlic salt on the other side of the chicken pieces.
  5. Transfer the chicken to the bread crumbs and press down, flip, and press down again until the pieces are coated in bread crumbs.  Move the chicken back to the original cookie sheet.  That batch is ready to bake at 350º until cooked through.  Do not overbake.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you have finished coating and baking all the chicken.
  7. Now it's time to freeze the pieces individually.  Don't be tempted to skip this step!  Lay the chicken out individually in bags, on foil, on a cookie sheet or whatever you have handy.  Freeze them for about 4 hours or until you can bag them without them sticking to each other.  After they are sufficiently frozen, load them into the giant Zip-Loc bags.  Press out as much air as possible then put them in your freezer until you are ready to eat them.
Dinner day:
  1. Place as many chicken pieces as you wish into a casserole dish.
  2. Pour pasta sauce over the top generously.
  3. Top with cheese.  Sprinkle with Italian seasoning.
  4. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes.



Sunday, February 24, 2013

Choices of the Heart - Laurie Alice Eakes

I absolutely loved Choices of the Heart by Laurie Alice Eakes, Book 3 in the Midwives series.  I had the pleasure of reading books one and two, and was very much looking forward to Choices of the Heart.
The novel features Esther Cherrett as the main character.  She is the daughter in a long line of midwives and has a genuine love for the career.  After a horrible scandal, she chooses to leave town and move into a very unpopulated, mountainous area of Virginia.  She takes this opportunity to pursue an entirely different career and step as far away from scandal as possible.  Teaching seemed pretty benign, so she does that.  However, there appears to be a greater need for a healer in the small community, and Esther feels the pull back to practicing medicine.
The novel is very well written.  The choices Esther faces regard the best interests of her parents, the decision to stay or leave the mountains of Virginia, the decision whether to practice medicine or not along with two romantic interests.  During all this she is caught in the center of a family feud of epic proportions.
I found Choices of the Heart to be encouraging and filled with wisdom. I highly recommend this series.  Do start with Book 1 and move forward.  Each book is exquisitely written, and you will thoroughly enjoy the series.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Waiting for Spring - Amanda Cabot

I had already read Amanda Cabot's Book 1 in the Westward Winds series, and Waiting for Spring was just as much of a treat.  The author wove a creative plot together with a minimum of three different storylines.
Barrett Landry is running for office and needs to find a wife to help establish his political career.  His advisers suggest Miriam, and Barrett agrees she would be an excellent choice.  Since Miriam's family is politically aware, they are in full support of the match.  However, when Barrett finds himself drawn to Charlotte, this attraction threatens to derail his plans.
Meanwhile, Charlotte is hiding a secret identity, and she can't trust anyone with the truth.  A notorious villain is seeking her death, and she quickly finds out he is living right there in the same town.
The author, Amanda Cabot, does a fantastic job weaving romance and mystery together.  This novel held me spellbound from front to back.  I was so thankful I had chosen it for a long trip, so I had the time to dive in and read it front to back.  My only regret is that Book 3 hasn't been released yet!  I can't wait to see who the main character will be and what the author has in mind.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Monday, February 4, 2013

5 Days to a Clutter-Free House - Felton/Sims

5 Days to a Clutter-Free House: Quick, Easy Ways to Clear Up Your Space presents a practical approach to home organization.  The authors break down the "how" of the process into reasonable steps and encourage teamwork.  They have managed to present it in a way that is not intimidating.
With the recent popularity of the television show "Hoarders" many of us have felt the pressure to organize our homes more effectively.
I loved the book and found it very helpful.  The approach was agreeable, and I do plan to use it -- especially in my master closet!  However, I do have one suggestion.  Because those of us with clutter issues can tend to be more creative and artsy than logistical, it takes a lot of patience to focus on non-fiction books.  My suggestion is to pare down the hype at the beginning of the book and get straight to the good stuff.  Learning is motivating.  Also, we learn best from pictures, so if more graphs, charts, or drawings can be incorporated that would help maintain interest.
Overall, this book was helpful, practical, and it had a positive impact on my home life.  Thank you, Revell!  I needed this!
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Tutor's Daughter - Julie Klassen

Julie Klassen has crafted yet another captivating novel with Bethany House.  I own every one of her books and will remain an enthusiastic fan of Klassen.  Her latest, The Tutor's Daughter, moves quietly but is fascinating and lives up to the Klassen standard.  I found myself seeing elements of both Pride and Prejudice as well as Jane Eyre.  You'll see for yourself what I mean when you read the book.
Emma Smallwood, whose father has been asked to tutor two young men privately in their home relocates with her father to the student's estate in Cornwall.  She has harbored feelings for Phillip, the students' older brother for several years, but still resents the eldest of the Weston brothers, Henry, for his malicious pranks many years ago.
In The Tutor's Daughter, Julie uses her trademark excellent research to bring the setting and characters to life.  She also weaves in a considerable amount of psychology, which is reflected in the personalities and tendencies of the main characters.  I also appreciated her research on autism and how it was viewed in the seventeenth century.
My only critique is that I wish she had brought out more attraction between the two main characters earlier in the novel.  However, the ending was phenomenal.  I highly recommend this novel.  You can find it online or at your local book retailer.
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow

The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow is the second book in the Avenue of Dreams series by Olivia Newport.  The first book, The Pursuit of Lucy Banning, was exceptional and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The author introduced Charlotte Farrow towards the end of the novel, and I was hoping the next book would center around her.  
Charlotte's circumstances are difficult.  She has employment in one of the mansions on Prairie Avenue in Chicago, but she is concealing her newborn son from her employers.  Lucy Banning discovers Charlotte's secret and agrees to help her find someone to watch her child during the week.  Charlotte visits her son on her day off.  
Trouble begins when the child's caretaker receives a letter indicating that she must depart immediately for a family emergency.  She leaves the child with Charlotte inside the Banning courtyard.  The help assumes a child has been abandoned in their yard and Charlotte must make a decision.  Should she confess that this is her child or would it be better to allow the Banning family to take care of the child in their home until Lucy returns from her honeymoon?  Unfortunately, Lucy isn't due back for several months.  When Flora Banning decides the baby is best adopted by one of her relatives and at the same time a houseguest wants to adopt the child, Charlotte doesn't know what to do.
My impression of this book is not as favorable as my impression of the first in this series.  The book is labeled a historical romance, but as far as I could tell there was no romance in the novel until the very end.  the plot is a winner, but I would have preferred if Leo had stepped into the protagonist's role and saved the day.  Archie seemed to me to be a lazy and discontent person who would not accept that Charlotte was not interested in him romantically.  I found all of this very unattractive and could not bring myself to hope for the ending that is written.  The main character, Charlotte, is a beautiful girl age twenty-one who loves her son dearly but is too cowardly to step up as his mother.  She also seems disinterested in Archie from the beginning, and I never saw a heart change.  The entire novel I was at odds with the characters.  
All that said, I will continue to read Olivia Newport's novels, because she is such a talented author.  The series has a lot of potential, and I am looking forward to seeing Leo's appearance soon perhaps.  
This book was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Shark 10-amp Navigator Lift Away Pro Bagless Upright Vacuum Cleaner

I am a vacuum snob.  It's not uncommon for me to return a vacuum to the store I bought it from within sixty days.  Most vacuums start strong; they have excellent suction and get your carpet very clean for the first few uses.  Then, sadly, they begin to lose suction, get clogged, or need bags replaced every week.  I detest the smell of smoking rubber, which is common if the belt comes off its track.  If they are bagless, then the capacity is usually remarkably small and requires dumping after every use or so.
This vacuum is the Shark 10-amp Navigator Lift Away Pro Bagless Upright.  I've had it for over ninety days now, and I think I'm in love.  The suction has remained excellent.  The vacuum is bagless, but they didn't skimp on the dust container.  It's huge.  You'll get many uses before you need to clean it out.  And when you do, don't panic.  It's easy peezi.  The hose is made from durable steel and rubber tubing.  You can disconnect the hose to use at two different points, depending on what you want to use it for.  However, I think the most remarkable facet of the vacuum is the fact that is transforms into a canister vacuum with just one click.  This makes it easy for you to carry around your house cleaning corners, drapes, or anything else with the hose.
Since most vacuums come with an abundance of tools, I didn't take a second look at what was bundled with my new vacuum.  However, once I got around to it I was shocked!  They really outdid themselves.  Besides the basics, they included a carpeted-stair cleaner, which can also be used for upholstery and a variety of other tasks.  It actually has a brush inside.  The real surprise was the wood floor/hard surface cleaner.  You can remove the vacuum head you typically use for carpeted areas and replace it with this, which completely changes the function of the entire unit.
The only thing I was wary of when I initially saw the vacuum was the small width.  We have a lot of carpet, and I was worried this might create more work for me.  However, it has not.  The vacuum squeezes into tight places easily, moves quickly, and I believe (as a result of the smaller width) the suction is substantially higher than what you get with another competitor.
I've never been more impressed.  Bottom line, if you need a vacuum this is an excellent choice.  And, surprisingly, the cost won't break the bank.  It was roughly a third the cost of a comparative Dyson model.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Change of Fortune - Jen Turano

As far as I can tell, this is Jen Turano's first novel.  Thankfully, it's only the first of four books in the "Ladies of Distinction" series.  I can't wait until the next one comes out!
The main character, Eliza Sumner, is visiting America from England on a quest to bring the man that stole from her family to justice.  She takes on a new identity as a nanny for a wealthy family and in the process meets Mr. Hamilton Beckett, one of the most eligible bachelors of the season.  Since they find each other in the most unusual of circumstances they decide to work together.  The author doesn't skimp on attraction, and I appreciated that touch very much.
The story ramps up and doesn't quit until the very end.  My only wish is that the other novels had already been released!  You will love this new author.  In my opinion, Bethany House is very lucky to have picked up someone with such a creative mind and a flair for storytelling.  I didn't put the book down until it was finished!  This is one to run out and buy.  It's worth it.
This was a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an objective review.