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Archive for the ‘The Weekly Read’ Category

I’m generally in awe of debut authors who make such a good first impression. And Kristy Cambron’s novel The Butterfly and the Violin makes a great introduction to a new writer. (Disclaimer: In exchange for my review, I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group.)

Butterfly and ViolinThis book is a work of art, not just because it centers on a lost painting. It’s the kind of story that makes me want to slow down and read the words over and over again so I appreciate the nuances of how they’re put together. I get the feeling that the more time spent with this story, the more details and layers I’d discover. Not unlike most pieces of art.

The Butterfly and the Violin combines the stories of Adele von Bron, a Viennese violinist during World War 2, and Sera James, a New York City art dealer in present day. Sera has been obsessed with the painting since she saw it a gallery in Paris when she was 8. Her life’s mission after her life crumbled has been to track down the painting. She and her assistant have hit a dead end when William Hanover, the heir of a wealthy California family, makes an offer to aid her search in an effort to save the family business. Sera and William try to piece together the clues to the painting’s owner and the story of Adele while each trying to patch up their broken pasts.

Adele’s story is woven into the contemporary storyline, a method of storytelling I love when it’s done well. And Cambron excels at it.

If you’ve read Susan Meissner’s The Girl in the Glass, you’ll find a similarly mesmerizing story in this book. The Butterfly and the Violin is part of the Hidden Masterpieces series, which is good news for those of us who want more stories that blend past and present.

About the book: A mysterious painting breathes hope and beauty into the darkest corners of Auschwitz—and the loneliest hearts of Manhattan.

Manhattan art dealer Sera James watched her world crumble at the altar two years ago, and her heart is still fragile. Her desire for distraction reignites a passion for a mysterious portrait she first saw as a young girl—a painting of a young violinist with piercing blue eyes.

In her search for the painting, Sera crosses paths with William Hanover, the grandson of a wealthy California real estate mogul, who may be the key to uncovering the hidden masterpiece. Together, Sera and William slowly unravel the story behind the painting’s subject: Austrian violinist Adele Von Bron.

A darling of the Austrian aristocracy, talented violinist, and daughter to a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Adele risks everything when she begins smuggling Jews out of Vienna. In a heartbeat, her life of prosperity and privilege dissolves into a world of starvation and barbed wire.

As Sera untangles the secrets behind the painting, she finds beauty in the most unlikely of places: in the grim camps of Auschwitz and in the inner recesses of her own troubled heart.
Purchase a copy: http://ow.ly/zhXo3

About the author: Kristy Cambron has been fascinated with the WWII era since hearing her KCambron-238grandfather’s stories of the war. She holds an art history degree from Indiana University and received the Outstanding Art History Student Award. Kristy writes WWII and Regency era fiction and has placed first in the 2013 NTRWA Great Expectations and 2012 FCRW Beacon contests, and is a 2013 Laurie finalist. Kristy makes her home in Indiana with her husband and three football-loving sons.

Find Kristy online: websiteFacebookTwitter

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When my husband and I first started cooking together, I was amazed at his ability to take common, seemingly unrelated pantry ingredients and turn them into a meal. It’s a method he learned growing up in a house where he cooked a few dinners a week. Food Network’s spin on that method is the show Chopped, where contestants open a basket of mystery ingredients and are tasked with making an edible appetizer, main dish or dessert out of them. It’s addicting.

choppedWhich is why when I found out Food Network was offering a Chopped cookbook, I pretty much freaked out. Because there are nights when I look in the pantry and I’m sure I don’t have enough stuff to make something tasty. Now, I have no excuse.

(And even though I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review, I believe this cookbook is worth every penny you might pay for it. But keep reading because I have a surprise for you!)

The Chopped Cookbook is everything I’ve ever wanted in a cookbook: Tantalizing pictures, creative ideas and doable recipes. And did I mention flexibility? Most cookbooks want you to follow their instructions to a T. This cookbook emphasizes flexibility based on a basic knowledge of how foods work together. It gives you the building blocks and says, “Go, create.”

As of writing this post, I’ve paged through the entire book and tried two recipes from it. The first was Marinated Tilapia Tacos. I lacked some of the ingredients but improvised a bit and still turned out a tasty meal. Even the kids ate it! The second was Quick Skillet Kielbasa Pork and Beans, which again, I lacked some of the ingredients but was able to improvise. And it was good! (Seriously, my husband rarely raves when I experiment and both of these dishes gained his approval.)

The instructions are easy to follow and some recipes look more complicated than others, but there are 188 recipes in this book and I want to try them all.

A few of my favorite features:

  • The pantry list at the beginning. It gives you a foundation on which to build. Many of the recipes assume that you have some basics on hand. But again, the emphasis is on flexibility. No points lost if you don’t buy everything on the list.
  • The theme. “Use what you’ve got to cook something great.” It’s a confidence builder and ought to be a theme for life in general.
  • The variety. Scattered throughout the book are “go-to guides” for pan sauces, salad dressings and grains. This is where the creativity and versatility come in.

It’s been a long time since I was this excited about cooking.

And I’m even more excited because due to a processing error, I received an extra copy of this cookbook and I want to share it with you!

To enter to win, leave a comment answering ONE of these questions (and leave your e-mail address, if you don’t mind so I know how to notify you if you win):

What’s your one must-have in-stock pantry item?

What one ingredient would you hate to see in your Chopped basket?

What one ingredient would you love to see in your Chopped basket?

I’m going to leave the contest open till Sunday, July 27, when I’ll pick a winner. (Because of shipping costs, I have to limit winners to continental U.S. only.)

Happy cooking!.

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Every time I read and review a Jody Hedlund book, I feel like a recording with my praise. So, if I haven’t convinced you historical fiction fans to read one of her books yet, consider these reasons to pick up her latest, Captured by Love, or any other book she’s written. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.) captured-by-love-662x1024

1. History. Duh. She writes historical fiction, right? But each of her novels leaves me wanting to know about the historical events she’s writing about. In this one, she focuses in on the War of 1812 and the British occupation of what we know as Mackinac Island in the Michigan Territory of 1814. I feel like I get an interesting history lesson when I read. But if history’s not enough to convince you, how about …

2. Hunky heroes. In Captured by Love, Pierre is a fur trader from the Michigan island settlement of Mackinac, which is currently occupied by the British. He’s the manliest of men with charm to spare. I’ve read all of Hedlund’s published books, and no two heroes are the same. I appreciate the diversity in character development as well as the predictability of some of their charms. Still, it’s fun to see how these men woo the women and also how they change. (My favorite hunky hero is from A Noble Groom. I’m swooning as I type.) But they’re not all typically hunky. Take Ben, who is modeled after John Adams, in Rebellious Heart. He woos with his words and his commitment to political change. That’s hunky in its own way. It’s not just about the men, though. Let’s not forget the …

3. Spunky heroines. This was a question posed by another historical fiction author recently: Do you like spunky heroines or more genteel ones? And honestly, I like them both for different reasons. Hedlund’s heroines are a mix of both but they lean toward spunky. They are not weak, damsel-in-distress types, though they do get rescued quite often. They are strong, passionate women with goals and ideas. In Captured by Love, Angelique has had to fend for herself for some time while also taking care of Pierre’s nearly-blind mother. She holds her own among the men in her life, even when she has little choice or say in matters. I appreciate female characters who earn the admiration of the men because of their minds, not just their pretty looks. Which is good because they face plenty of …

4. Peril. Hedlund’s stories are not sweet romances. There is danger, and the characters face opposition from without and within. Sometimes their lives hang in the balance. The stories are full of adventure and hold-your-breath moments, the kind where you know (you think!) things are going to turn out okay but you’re not sure how. Hedlund keeps me turning the pages and isn’t afraid to put her characters through the worst of circumstances for the sake of a good story.

And finally, you should read her stories …

5. To believe in love again. I know not everyone agrees that reading inspirational romance is a worthy pursuit, but don’t we humans love a good love story? I love reading true stories of love that lasts and weathers storms, and I’m grateful for authors who can write stories that reflect that real-life truth. Hedlund’s books are intense sometimes, and they are entertaining, but they are also pictures of undying and sacrificial love. These are not fluff romances meant to give readers a temporary thrill. They are stories that stick with you and rekindle the belief that love conquers all.

So, there you have it. Five good reasons to pick up a Jody Hedlund novel. She writes the stories I want to read, and frankly, I wouldn’t even have to know what the book is about beforehand as long as her name is on it. If you’re looking for a new author to love, give her books a try. And if you need further incentive to read Captured by Love, head on over to Goodreads and enter the giveaway for a chance to win one of 15 copies.

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Have you met the Christiansen family yet? I’m totally in like with this family created by talented storyteller Susan May Warren. This flawed family of faithful and forgiving people fills my heart. They’re so real. You can call me crazy, but I am love, love, loving these kinds of sibling series that focus in on one sibling’s story in a large family. When I Fall in Love is the third in this family’s story, and so far, it’s my favorite. (Disclaimer: I received a free ecopy of the book from the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my review.)

when i fall in loveIn it, we meet Grace Christiansen whose life is all about playing it safe. She’s reluctant to leave her family and the community of Deep Haven for anything resembling adventure. But when her family gifts her with a culinary vacation to Hawaii, she finds herself unable to avoid a life beyond what she’s known, thanks in part to Maxwell Sharpe. Max is a Minnesota hockey player with ties to the Christiansen family. His former teammate Jace is marrying Grace’s older sister Eden, and he was a teammate of the bad boy Christianson brother, Owen. He’s headed to Hawaii, too, for his third culinary vacation: his time to relax and put away his fears for tomorrow. They meet on the plane and Max sets out to show Grace the beauty and wonder of Hawaii while trying to keep emotional distance because of the fate he knows awaits him in life.

Call this book Food Network meets The Fault in Our Stars. Grace and Max bond over cooking and enter a cooking competition as a team. At times, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to keep reading or get myself into the kitchen and cook something myself. It was the best of both worlds for me: reading and cooking. And I appreciated the hard questions Warren tackles in this relationship. Max knows his days on earth are limited, and because of that, he shuts himself off from the possibility of a relationship. He doesn’t think he deserves to fall in love or dream because nothing is guaranteed to last.

And Grace. Oh, how I could relate to her need to live a safe life. Her reluctance to step out in faith and try something new or big or great. There were times in the story when I read the words she was speaking about herself and her abilities and they could have been my words, too.

It’s an age-old question: Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? And Warren answers it beautifully.

You can catch up with the Christiansens in books 1 and 2: Take A Chance on Me and It Had to Be You. And I, for one, will be following this family to the end of the series.

 

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So, here we are, nearly at the halfway point of the year, and I’m trying to sum up the best books I read in the second three months of 2014. (For a look at first quarter’s best books, check out this post.)

Why is this so hard?!?!

I’m sorry if you think me dramatic, but I’m reading great books this year, and if you can’t find a good book to read, ask me for a recommendation! Because I’m super picky about the books I read and review, and if I don’t think they’re amazing, I’ll let you know. Here’s an attempt at the best books I read in the April-June range (in no particular order). And if you want to see what all I’ve read this year, find me on Goodreads. I track all my reading there. broken kind of beautiful

  • Just missing the date cutoff for the first quarter was Katie Ganshert’s A Broken Kind of Beautiful. This novel features one of my favorite fictional heroes. Possibly of  all time. Ganshert writes contemporary romance but it’s not light reading. I compared this book to Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, which is on my all-time best books list.
  • Next up is The Waiting by Cathy LaGrow. Non-fiction that reads like fiction, and it is a tear-jerker, heart-breaking, hope-filled story of family reunion.
  • Jennie Allen’s Restless was a book that took me almost the entire quarter to read, and I still need to return to it and flesh out more of the questions it raises. If you’re lacking purpose or vision or wonder how and if God can use your life, this book will help.girl at end of world
  • I was surprised by how much I identified with the story in Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther. This is a memoir of the author’s years growing up in a fundamentalist cult. Her experiences are heartbreaking and her insights are challenging.daisies
  • I’m going to give this last one to a category of books: war novels. Daisies Are Forever by Liz Tolsma and The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot have renewed my interest in history. Tolsma’s book is set during World War II. Groot’s is a Civil War novel. Both are based on historical events and places, and both I would consider must-reads for any history buff out there.

Seriously, these lists pain me, so why I keep trying to pick favorites, I don’t know. But, if you’re in need of a summer read yet this year, check out one of these.

And tell me, what are the best books you’ve read so far this year?

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I’ve been a fan of Karen Witemeyer’s books since the first ones I read last year before meeting her at a writers conference. And while those were enjoyable reads, each new book she’s released has been better than the last one!

full steam aheadHer newest release, Full Steam Ahead, might be my new favorite of hers. And I really liked her last book, Stealing the Preacher. (Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of Full Steam Ahead from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review.)

Witemeyer sets her books in 19th century Texas, generally. In this one, she focuses on Nicole Renard, only child of Anton Renard of Renard Shipping, who because of her gender is not a suitable heir to the company (despite her knowledge of the business). With her father ailing and the company’s future at stake, Nicole sets out to find a man to marry who can carry on her father’s shipping legacy.

Her plans are diverted from the beginning as a rival family waits to take a valuable possession from the Renard family, so Nicole finds herself in the small town of Liberty, Texas, instead of New Orleans, where her prospects for a partner would have been plentiful. She seeks a job from Darius Thornton, the town’s recluse and a man obsessed with preventing boiler explosions on steam ships. Haunted by his past, he reluctantly hires Nicole when she shows she’s able to understand his notes.

Witemeyer sets this relationship up cleverly. Both are determined to avoid each other in favor of a greater, nobler pursuit, but as they work together, they’re drawn to each other. I love that Nicole shows ability in a field normally reserved for a man and how she’s able to surprise Darius with her knowledge. (Hint: This is a good book for smart girls. She’s more than a pretty face!) And Darius, though obsessed with a past he can never correct, has a vision for what the future can be. Nicole’s presence reminds him that he needs other people in his life.

If you’re in need of a beach book or story to read while traveling to your summer destination, I recommend this new one by Witemeyer (or any of her books). I keep saying I have a favorite of hers, but each new one that she writes becomes my new favorite.

 

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Last week I wrote about my experience reading the book Restless by Jennie Allen. In the same amount of time it took me to read it, the DVD study kit has been sitting on my desk (or has been passing back and forth between me and a friend, who is leading our book club discussion). Finally, I had a chance to sit down and watch a few sessions and look over the material. (Disclaimer: I received a free DVD kit from the publisher through Shelton Interactive in exchange for my review.)

Since it’s designed for group use, it’s hard for me to give a fully accurate review, but I have some overall impressions, the first of which is: Uh-mazing.

If I thought Jennie’s passion transferred from the page to the reader, then I hadn’t seen the half of it. In front of a group of women, Jennie comes alive and, girlfriends, she can preach. She nearly had me in tears just by hearing her talk.

The kit includes an 8-session DVD, a leader guide, an individual study guide and a box of question cards (which I personally found to be an intriguing aspect of the kit).

restless DVD

The study is similar in structure to Beth Moore’s DVD studies, if you’re familiar with those. The workbook is designed for personal use throughout the week and the DVD sessions and question cards are meant to be used in a group setting.

And can I just say that this whole journey of discovery found in Restless–whether the book or the video teaching–is ridiculously scary because it’s so personal and important. And I believe that Jennie Allen believes what she’s teaching–that we’re all meant for more in this life, that God will use our experiences (even the hard ones) for His greater purposes and that we just might find ourselves in the middle of a big adventure if we allow God to show us what He’s up to. It’s one of those times that I’m almost afraid to go too deep because I might drown in the importance of it all.

I want to soak in this teaching, dig into my own experiences and uncover the connection between who God made me and what I can do in this world for Him.

If you’re looking for a group study for your church, I’d give this one an enthusiastic recommendation. And if you’ve been through it with a group or decide to do it, I’d love to hear what you think! Just be warned: there’s no skimming the surface here, unless that’s all you want to get out of it. Be prepared to do some honest digging into your life. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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What if an impulsive decision changed your life forever?

meant to be mineCelia Park has had a thing for Ty Porter since high school and when their paths cross in Las Vegas, the spark is still there. After four unbelievable days of a Vegas-style romance, Celia and Ty end up at a wedding chapel for an equally Vegas-style wedding. In the morning, Celia wakes up with no regrets; Ty, on the other hand, has nothing but. Their dream relationship ends after four days and the two part ways. Five and a half years later, they’re still married though they haven’t seen each other all that time. Circumstances force Ty to find Celia and he finds more than his in-name-only wife–he finds Celia raising a daughter, his daughter, alone.

Meant to Be Mine by Becky Wade is the story of Celia and Ty’s relationship as Celia learns to trust a man who broke her heart and Ty learns to live for something other than bull riding. (Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review.) It’s a sweet, funny, inspiring love story that mirrors the aches of the human heart for love and forgiveness.

Wade writes some of the best contemporary inspirational stories on the market today. I love her style of storytelling, especially in this book Celia’s spunk and Ty’s charm. You can almost hear the irresistible smile as he speaks. And the cover is just plain adorable and captures Celia’s personality perfectly.

If you’re stocking up on summer reading, add this one to your list. (And check out Becky’s other books, including the first in the Porter family series, Undeniably Yours.)

 

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restlessIt’s the rare book that takes me two months to read, especially if I like it, but such was the case with Restless by Jennie Allen. Honestly, I’d gladly take six months or a year to read this book, so full is it of reflective questions and topics for deep thinking. Two months has felt like too fast for this book. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through the BookLook Bloggers program.)

And because it’s been hanging around for a while, and because summer is coming and we all want good books to read, and because it’s hitting me right where I live, I’m calling it a bonus book review on the blog this week. It won’t be light summer reading, but it might be life-changing summer reading.

Recently, I’ve told you about my restless feelings and about my journey as a writer. Both of those reflections were informed by reading Restless.

So, what is Restless? In short, it’s permission to dream. Whatever stage of life we find ourselves in, Jennie Allen encourages us to consider what we were made for. She takes readers through her own journey of discovering and rediscovering her calling in the midst of motherhood and gives us the opportunity to identify painful and meaningful experiences from our past. It was on those pages that I personally realized I’d always been a writer and that writing will be a constant in my life, no matter the other passions and pursuits I find myself exploring.

Restless is a uniquely personal journey for every reader. Our church’s book club has been reading through it, and the few times I’ve been part of those discussions, I can see that it has different meaning for everyone. (And not just for women in their 20s and 30s. Women of ALL ages can benefit from finding their purpose and passion.)

I love the way the author writes. It’s like chatting with a friend across a cafe table with coffee mugs in hand. I half expected her to reach through the pages and offer a hug like she said she wanted to do. Her words are authentic, real and challenging.

Toward the end of the book, she offers a letter from her husband to husbands about helping the women in their lives find their purpose and follow it. It was touching, and while I might hand it over to my husband to have him read it, I’m grateful that he is already on board with my passions.

So, if you pick this one up, don’t rush through it. Get a notebook and fill it with words and scribbles. Grab a friend and read it together and look over your threads, as Allen calls them, and dream together.

I think that’s what I love best about the book: its emphatic message that it’s okay to dream. Too often I think we, women, give up our dreams for our families or our families become our dreams. Sometimes that’s okay or it’s okay for a season, but for me, I know that discovering my passions and following them is a source of great fulfillment that carries over into my family. When I am doing what God made me to do, I’m a better wife and mom.

Restless confirms and encourages that, for any stage, any calling. It doesn’t discount the call to motherhood or serving families. It releases us to be whatever God made us to be.

And that, friends, is freeing.

Note: There’s also a video series available for Restless, and I have a copy to review that I haven’t had a chance to watch yet. Stay tuned for a separate review of that!

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modern pioneeringModern Pioneering by Georgia Pellegrini promises recipes, survival skills and gardening tips, and it delivers on those promises. However, I had certain expectations for this book and I’m not sure they were met. This collection of recipes, projects and tips is like holding Pinterest in your hands, which is not a bad thing but can be a bit overwhelming. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher through the  Blogging for Books program.)

The book is full of beautiful pictures and scrumptious-sounding recipes. But I felt like the author has an advantage over most of us in that she was raised to think this way so eating edible flowers or cooking with dandelion greens is nothing to her. For me, it would take some getting used to. Also, while learning how to eat from your backyard sounds frugal, some of the recipes include ingredients that are anything but frugal. Somewhat mixed messages.

However, I found a lot of useful tips for container gardening and what to grow for different spaces and ease of growing. For a beginner, which I totally am,  it’s a good resource, especially for gardening. Some of the other projects, however, sound fun and interesting but would require time and energy that some of us don’t have. (Make your own paper, anyone? It’ll only take days and require the use of a blender and your bathtub and dedicated space in your house.)

Overall, I’m glad for this book as a guide, and I will refer to it as I develop my homesteading skills, but I wouldn’t consider it a necessity for everyone at every stage of life.

For more about the book, click here.

To learn about the author, click here.

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