Thursday, December 16, 2010

City of Tranquil Light

City of Tranquil Light
Author: Bo Caldwell
Genre: Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publishing Date: September 28, 2010

Will Kiehn is a simple Midwestern man. Growing up in a farmer’s home it seems inevitable that he will continue to work the land like the generations before him. However, in the early 1900’s God places a call on his heart for the country of China. Answering that call, he leaves all that is familiar he catches a boat and moves to the North China Plain in 1906. In China he meets fellow missionary Katherine, a dedicated nurse with struggling language skills. They fall in love, marry, and dedicate their lives to serving together in China.

The early 1900’s is a time of great turmoil in China. The two-thousand-year-old dynasty is crumbling and the nation plunges into violent civil war. Will and Katherine make their home in Kuang P’ing Ch’eng- City of Tranquil Light. They are well accepted by the people of the city and Katherine’s nursing skills are an open door for many new converts. However, the country is far from safe. Disease threatens the life of their newborn, Will is kidnapped by bandits, and rebel soldiers take the city by storm. In the midst of it all we journey with Will and Katherine and their unending love for each other as they pour out their very lives into the country they have adopted as home.

The depth of this book will captivate you. The story is told alternatively through Will and Katherine’s viewpoints. Will tells the story as an aging widow and we see Katherine’s story through her journal entries. Their love for each other and their dedication for their calling is truly beautiful. Bo Caldwell creatively weaves in portions of her own grandparent’s story as missionaries to China into the novel which adds a wonderful spark of meaning into a book already overflowing with meaning. The historical aspects of China that are revealed through the book are fascinating and not over done. You’ll walk away wanting to know more.

You’ll find yourself completely drawn into Will and Katherine’s story. Like any truly good book you won’t want this one to end. I found myself overwhelmed at the sacrifices the missionaries of old had to make. Many missionaries packed their belongings into coffins because they knew their bodies would only ever return to the place of their birth. Will and Katherine became a part of China and China’s impact on their lives was permanent. I dare say that this book could impact you much the same. In it you’ll find the soft whisper of the Father as he creates his story in the characters but also as he whispers his story to the reader. A story of love, of sacrifice, of a God who transcends cultures to reveal himself to his beloved creation.

Rated: PG- for war violence and drama

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stars Collide

Stars Collide
Author: Janice Thompson
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary Romance, Hollywood
Publisher: Revell
Publishing Date: December 2010

Kat Jennings and Scott Murphy are television stars. While filming their third season of the popular TV show Stars Collide the script, both on stage and in real life, takes some interesting twists. As their characters fall in love on TV Kat and Scott are already in love with each other in real life, head over heels in fact. Kat’s grandmother, Lenora Worth, is an aging former Hollywood star. Eccentric, unique, beautiful, and just a tad loopy, she manages to blur the lines between her granddaughter’s real life and her TV life. Before you can blink Grandma confuses an on-air proposal and Kat and Scott are “engaged” in real life…although they aren’t, but their characters are on TV. Confused? Imagine how Grandma Lenora feels!

The plot thickens as Lenora invites the paparazzi in for a sneak peak at all the “wedding” planning. Meanwhile, Kat and Scott are still enjoying their budding romance and not quite sure what to do with all of the confusion. There is also something strangely mysterious about Rex, the show’s producer. He and Lenora seem to have a past and their admiration for each other is hard to miss. Lenora wavers between eras and manages to be glamorous and endearing in whatever decade she’s currently residing. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself laughing out loud as she invites Kat to go swimming with her in the “cement pond” or loudly announces the couple’s “engagement” to Scott’s parents visiting from out of town.

If you love movies at all, particularly old movies, then you will love this book. I was hooked from the moment the characters started talking about Doris Day. The many references to movies and old movie stars is truly delightful. It portrays Hollywood in a refreshing way. As you ride down Sunset Boulevard in “The Pink Lady” you’ll see a softer side of Hollywood through Grandma Lenora’s eyes. Lenora is well developed and hilarious. Her memory loss is frustrating at times and I felt occasionally a bit overworked. You’ll fall in love with Kat as you journey with her as she falls in love, finds healing from her Father God, and grows as a person.

I so badly wanted this book to be perfect because it is SO close! Much like forgetting salt when making cookies it is missing the “it” factor. Poor Scott is likable, but largely underdeveloped. He’s an important prop but he simply remains a prop for most of the book. He steps in when needed but there is just something missing with him. However, do not let this stop you from reading this book! I had my doubts about a “Hollywood” book but I loved it for so many reasons. Don’t be surprised if you find the urge to pop Pillow Talk or An Affair to Remember in your DVD player and escape back to a different Hollywood and join Grandma Lenora in her memories. You’ll be so glad you did!

Rated: G

Audrey Leach at Baker Publishing

Monday, December 13, 2010

Still House Pond

Still House Pond
Author: Jan Watson
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Publisher: Tyndale
Date: July 2010

Lilly Gray Corbett is an adventurous 11 year old growing up in Kentucky in 1896. She can’t imagine anything better than living right on Troublesome Creek. She  loves her mama (Copper) and her step-daddy (John) and all of her little brothers and sisters. Lilly’s mama is an accomplished mid-wife and is often traveling around to deliver babies. Lilly  enjoys pleasing her mama but doesn’t always like babysitting all those sisters and brothers. She’d rather be outside near the creek discovering something, or someone, new.

Lilly’s daddy died when she was little in Lexington. One day Aunt Alice writes and invites Lilly to come spend part of the summer with her in the city. Copper has a hard time letting go of her little girl and allowing her to travel by herself on the train. However, she relents and Lilly is ecstatic about her adventure. In a mix-up of catastrophic proportions Lilly misses her train and is kidnapped by an angry neighbor. The family thinks Lilly is on the train bound for Aunt Alice and when that train crashes they fear the very worst. You’ll find yourself caught up as the story jumps between different characters and each character experiences their own defining moments. You throw in the Pelfry family maid who has a run in with a nefarious character and you’ll keep on reading this one.

There is something so effortless about the way Jan Watson writes and they way her books read. She’s been a favorite of mine for some time. She allows you to not only enter into the story but you enter into the lives of the characters. Still House Pond  doesn’t just bring you one event in the life of Lilly and her family, it allows you to join in on their day to day lives. It’s like settling into a warm quilt and enjoying a chat with friends. You’ll easily find yourself caught up in this read. Your heart will race as Lilly is kidnapped, hurt as Copper fears her daughter is dead, and be angry at the carelessness of the characters. You’ll enter in and enjoy every minute of it, I promise!

Rated PG- for birth scenes

Thank you to Tyndale Publishing for providing a copy of this book!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Son of Hamas

Son of Hamas
Author: Mosab Hassan Yousef (with Ron Brackin)

The shocking true story of a Hamas insider who rejected his violent destiny- and is now risking everything to expose closely guarded secrets and show the world a way to peace.
From his earliest days, Mosab Hasson Yousef had a view of the inner workings of Hamas. The son of one its founders, from childhood he was immersed in the mysterious world of Middle Eastern terror and politics. Arrested time and again by the Shin Bet, the Israeli internal intelligence service, he eventually made the decision to become a double agent. For ten years Yousef lived deeply embedded within Hamas, suspected by no one, yet passing vast amounts of information to Israel. In this way he prevented assassinations, stopped suicide attacks and provided information leading to the arrests or killings of many terrorists. He was Shin Bet’s most valuable source of information about Hamas.

In the late 90's a "chance" encounter with a British visitor opened Yosuef's eyes to the Christian faith. Curious and intelligent, Yousef took this opportunity and was immediately struck by the difference between Jesus Christ and Mohammed, between the Christian faith and the Islam he had inherited from his fathers. In the months that followed he made a slow conversion to Christianity and was quietly baptized.

Yousef now lives in the US under political asylum. The book chronicles Yousef's heartbreaking separation from his family and his homeland as God draws him near.

This book is truly fascinating. I'm a sucker for true stories and this does not disappoint. I did find myself bogged down in many of the historical and political background but it was pertinent to the story (can we say "short attention span"?). It brings what you see on the news to real life. You'll find yourself challenged, overwhelmed, and inspired. A gripping read!  

Thank you to Tyndale House Publishing for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my review!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Making Waves

Making Waves by Lorna Seilstad
Reviewed by Melissa J. MacDonald
Genre: Historical, Romance
Publisher: Revell
Date: 2010

It’s 1895 and precocious Marguerite Westing resides in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She is delighted when her wealthy father tells the whole family they’ll be spending the summer camping on the shores of Lake Manawa. She imagines a summer of freedom away from her snore of a suitor, Roger Gordon. She also hopes to stay out of sight of her demanding mother. Marguerite gets a quick taste of the lake as she slips on the dock and tumbles in. Her handsome rescuer is none other than sailor Trip (ironic name?) Andrews. Never one to settle for simply “womanly” pursuits Marguerite finds herself in love with the strictly male sport of sailing. Trip Andrews isn’t too bad himself. Under the guise of chaperoning her younger brother’s sailing lessons Marguerite and Trip are inexplicably drawn to each other.

In spite of what should be a warm fun summer there is a decided chill that breaks through as Roger’s moods are unpredictable and Marguerite’s father is keeping dangerous secrets that could alter the family forever. When the secrets come to light Roger seems to be the only person who can save the family. Marguerite agrees to marry the mustached Roger with the hope of restoring her family to wealth. Lies and deceit run rampant through the story. Will Marguerite stay with Roger to save her family? Will Trip forgive Marguerite’s deceit and pursue her? I’m not telling, you’ll have to read for yourself!

I’ll fully admit that Making Waves started off a little irritating for me. Marguerite comes across as your typical spoiled brat rich kid who will do anything to get her own way. I was not amused. However, being from Iowa (and within an hour of Lake Manawa) I was completely intrigued by the elusive Lake Manawa. I read on for purely historical purposes. What I quickly found was a much better developed Marguerite and a story that took me by surprise. If you give yourself 100 pages you’ll be completely engrossed in the story and be so glad you kept reading. The story takes twists you won’t be expecting and both Marguerite and Trip have a depth to them that is not seen at first introduction.

The historical aspects of Making Waves were fascinating. Wealthy people really did camp at Lake Manawa for the summer and there really were ferries and ice cream stands and sailboat races. If the story doesn’t grab you the setting of Lake Manawa will. You’ll want to climb into your woolen swimming costume (does that sound itchy and hot to anyone else?!), grab a strawberry sundae, and watch a sailboat race!

Rated: PG for content related to gambling

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Lightkeeper's Bride

The Lightkeeper’s Bride by Colleen Coble
Reviewed by: Melissa J. MacDonald
Genre: Historical, Mystery, Romance
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Date: 2010

Settle in, you’re going to love this one.

It’s 1890 on the coast of Northern California in a sleep (or not so sleepy) town called Mercy Falls. Katie Russell is in her mid-twenties and her parents are expecting her to make a good marriage match to the wealthy bachelor Bartholomew Foster. Katie finds Bart a bit dull and finds her job as a telephone operator anything but. One evening while working the lines Katie overhears a disturbing exchange between her friend Eliza and a very familiar male voice. With that one overheard phone call the story takes off in ways you’ll never see coming.

Eliza has disappeared and her baby Jennie has been left behind. The new handsome lighthouse keeper Will seems to keep showing up in all the right….er wrong places. Will has his own set of problems as he witnesses piracy and murder and tries to take care of a one-year-old. Not to mention there is a certain telephone operator that is taking his life by storm. In the midst of clue gathering, pirate fighting, and disease fleeing romance springs up where….well exactly where you would expect it and it’s delightful.

Aye mateys you’ll be on the edge of your seat with this one! I consider myself a bit of a savvy mystery reader but even I was a bit fooled by one character in particular. Coble does a fantastic job of helping you enter into the story. With her descriptive words you’ll be sure you’ve taken off on a mystery sailing adventure with all the main characters. Will seems to bounce back from each deadly wound like the superhero we all want our men to be and you’ll find yourself sighing as he rescues Katie from the dastardly pirates.

This is the second book in The Mercy Falls series but can easily be read as a standalone. However, I guarantee once you travel to Mercy Falls you’ll want to stay for awhile. You might find yourself strapping on your skates at the local roller skating rink, stopping in at the haberdashery, or listening on the party line to hear all the latest gossip. Whatever the case you’ll be glad you were introduced to this special little town.

Rated PG- for mild action and murder scenes

This book was provided for me by Thomas Nelson Publishers through Radiant Lit. To see this at Radiant Lit, click here.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dining With Joy

Dining with Joy
Rachel Hauk

In low-country South Carolina Joy Ballard is the host of a regionally-syndicated cooking show. She's beautiful, witty, vivacious.....and she can't cook. Her father's dying wish pushes her into a hosting position she was never qualified to have. Her humor and wit make her a natural on TV and when her show is suddenly picked up by a national network her secret is harder and harder to keep a secret.

Enter the tall dark and handsome Manhattan chef Luke Redmond. He can cook, he's goregous, and he's kind of got a thing for Joy. Their natural chemistry is noticed by Joy's producer and jobless Luke finds himself playing co-host to Joy. As they grow closer and closer, both on screen and off, Joy's secret threatens to destroy everything.

With an enchanting blend of southern living, steamy (yet Jesus appropriate) chemistry, delicious food, and a delightful story line you will love this book! I had my doubts at first but I was quickly taken in and I was dissapointed when it ended. You'll want to keep on hanging out with Luke and Joy (and Joy's crazy family). You might even find yourself wanting to float down the river and join in a small-town softball game.

Read it :)

Monday, October 18, 2010


I have eaten at this unique little bistro a number of times. I love it each time! Whether I am sitting in the sun in their outdoor seating in the summer or staying snug indoors in the winter this is always a win. Their menu has unique flavors and combinations that make you drool just reading through it. Their salads are huge and full of fresh items. My favorite thing on the menu would have to be the sweet potato fries with a side of basil aioli...simply to die for. I've yet to try anything I haven't liked and I'm particularly fond of the Chipotle Chicken Wrap. Fresh delicious flavors. When they say "it's all good", they mean it! Don't let the odd location in a strip mall deter you, you don't want to miss this!

Go to their website:

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cause and Effect (Adventures in Odyssey)

"And now it's time for another adventure in Odyssey!" With those words you are instantly transported to the town of Odyssey and engrossed in all of the adventures that come with it. Volume 52 and Focus on the Family is still going strong. Always captivating, this volume of Adventures in Odyssey does not disappoint. The first 2 episodes involve a mystery taking place in Odyssey's clock tower. I'll admit, I was hooked from the moment black roses mysteriously showed up near the clock! Sticking with the theme of "cause and effect" each episode teaches kids (and adults) that there are always consequences (good or bad) for our actions. Episode 5 revolves around fasting and the gang at Whit's End each fasts in their own way. It offers a great challenge for listeners to set something aside to allow space for God in our lives. While I enjoyed some episodes more than others each one had it's own jewel of truth to walk away with and each one was entertaining. 

Adventures in Odyssey is well done, relevant, and worth every penny. Kids of all ages will enjoy this volume. So sit back and relax on your next road trip, pop in a CD, and get ready for another Adventure in Odyssey!

Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this album in exchange for my review.

Where Hearts Are Free

Where Hearts Are Free 
Golden Keyes Parsons

It's 1681 in the New World and 18 year old Bridget Barrington is desperately in love with Philipe Clavell. True love should conquer all but Philipe is a a Hugenot and Bridget is a Catholic. Philipe is an indentured servant and Bridget is the daughter of his master. When Bridget's parents learn of her love for Philipe they quickly release him from his contract and shuffle him home to his welcoming family. Bridget suddenly finds herself brokenhearted and engaged to be married to Edward Moorehead, a man whom she neither likes nor trusts.

The story unfolds and the twists and turns will keep you up reading at night. Bridget witnessed something nefarious at an early age and unbeknownst to her Edward is hiding many deep dark secrets. Philipe learns of Edward's dealings and does his best to make his way back to his love's side. But will he be too late to save Bridget from disaster?

I enjoyed this book. It is the last book in the Darkness to Light trilogy. The Clavell family will grip your hearts and make you want to keep reading as the trilogy sweeps you along from France to the New World. While you can read this book alone I would recommend reading book 1 and 2 first. The main characters are strong but I found some of the supporting characters lacking in development. Overall I would recommend Where Hearts Are Free.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


On any given day you will find me toting my camelbak water bottle all over. It goes to and from work with me, travels with me, sits by my bed at night, and generally is always nearby. I bought my camelbak when I was in the States for Christmas. I wanted an alternative to the metal water bottles (brr) and the nalgene bottles with the wide open tops (I always spilled!). My little guy has a sippy straw and I love it. It does take a bit of practice to figure out the technique for drinking but once you've got it you'll love it. It rarely leaks and washes up in the dishwasher with no problems.Mine traveled Europe with me and still looks great. I've got the 16oz one which is just the right size. Highly recommend!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pantene Pro-V Spray Gel

Curly hair can be a curse and can also be a blessing. If you have curly hair you know exactly what I'm talking about. Those of us "blessed" with the spring, sprang, and sprung are constantly battling with our hair. We change products like we do our clothes. One day our shampoo does the trick and the next it's not working at all. For a whole week I'll use mousse and then I swear I'll never use it again. Creams, sprays, gels, etc...I've tried them all and I rotate through them regularly. I do, however, seem to repeatedly come back to this little number. 
It works great! I spray it on my wet hair, comb through, and then I'm good to go. It gives definition without crunch and it covers my hair (of which I am abudantly blessed) without me having to have gooey fingers. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Casa Guadagno- Positano, Italia

My two friends and I stayed here the first part of April 2008. While it is challenging to reach Positano when you're on a budget trip all of our weariness faded away when we reached this charming pensione. We reserved our room through e-mail with the owners directly. They asked for an approximate time of arrival and we were about 6 hours later than anticipated. The owner met us at the door when we arrived as if we were his long lost relatives.

Our room was wonderfully clean and spacious. We awoke to the sun shining through our french doors. The balcony offered a view to die for. The whole city was visible as was the sparkling sea. The whole place is a maze of small stairways and charming balconies. It is clean and gorgeous!

Our hosts were extremely hospitable. They even fixed breakfast for us on the day we had to leave early. They provided a map and some suggestions of where to eat. Our room was cleaned each day and the sheets and towels were pristine. They even quickly got ice for me after I fell down the lovely marble stairs!

Internet was available downstairs and although they said they charged a small fee, we were never charged. We paid 90E for a triple room. I would definitely stay here again. The whole town is beautiful and well worth the challenge of getting there. 

Casa Guadagno's website

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Apothecary's Daughter

The Apothecary’s Daughter by Julie Klassen
Reviewed by Melissa J. MacDonald
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Medical
Publisher: Bethany House
Publication Date:

Lilly Haswell is the brilliant daughter of Bedsley Priors’ local apothecary. Abandoned by her mother when she was but 15 Lilly works hard to care for her father and her simple-minded younger brother. While she toils away in her father’s shop her heart yearns for adventure and for answers to her mother’s mysterious disappearance. An opportunity for change comes in the form of a distant Uncle and Aunt extending an invitation to host her in London. While in London she is exposed to fashionable society and keeps her father’s less than prominent profession under wraps.

As eligible suitors begin calling and clues to her mother’s disappearance come to light Lilly is urgently summoned back to Bedsley Priors. Lilly returns to her small village to find her father ailing, Haswell’s apothecary being challenged by the new competition, and the business affairs in disarray. A planned fortnight visit turns into something much longer as Lilly takes over management of the apothecary. Women are forbidden to work as apothecaries so Lilly does what she must make it appear as if she is working under the direction of her very ill father. The local suspicious doctor seems to have a personal vendetta against Haswell’s and the plot thickens as disaster looms on the horizon. As the story heats up so does the competition to win Lilly’s extraordinary heart as three handsome men vie for her attention.

She’s just a simple apothecary’s daughter who enjoys an occasional unladylike run up a hill, coffee with her dear friend Mary, and gardening with her brother. Who will win her heart and could her mother still be alive?

This book is quietly captivating. You will find yourself keeping the candle burning to find out
what happens next. Lilly is a delightful character with a wonderful mixture of loyalty, stubbornness, dreams, and heartaches. She holds her cards close to her chest (annoyingly too close sometimes!) and you will be kept guessing until the end.

Klassen weaves a compelling story that will open your eyes to the little known world of the apothecary in the early 1800’s. The book is chocked full of historical information and you will feel as if you have temporarily relocated to England. Grab a mug of coffee and a warm blanket and be prepared to take a mini vacation to a time long long ago.
Rated PG for brief references to infidelity
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