Hope in the middle of tragedy: Review of A Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron

Some books I read leave me in awe of the writing process as much as the story. Kristy Cambron’s novels are part of that category. Weaving storylines of suffering from World War II and present-day, Cambron writes of hope, beauty and love in the midst of tragedy and unexpected heartache. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.)

Sparrow-in-Terezin-PKA Sparrow in Terezin is the second of Cambron’s Hidden Masterpiece novels. The first, The Butterfly and the Violin, was such a work of art in itself, I wondered if the second book could meet similar standards.

It does.

The book continues the contemporary storyline started in the first book, so if you’re interested in these books, start with The Butterfly and the Violin. Art dealer Sera James and her fiance, William Hanover, find themselves in the middle of a legal battle that could send William to prison. In 1940s London, Kaja Makovsky, a Czech emigrant, learns she is no safer across the Channel than she was at home, and she must decide to risk her life to save her family. Both women face the choice to flee or fight, to trust or doubt. And Cambron creatively connects their stories through a character introduced in the first novel.

I love these kinds of stories that blend past and present, and connect lives and stories from each era. A Sparrow in Terezin preserves the stories of children who created art at a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. The more stories I read from the World War II era, the more I realize I don’t know about that era. I’d not heard of this piece of history, but I was moved by the hope and passion of the characters to fight for beauty and love in circumstances that looked hopeless.

Cambron is one of my new favorite authors, and I hope she keeps telling stories for a long time. If you’re a fan of World War II fiction, you shouldn’t miss her novels.

And read on to find out how the author is celebrating the book’s release.

Bound together across time, two women will discover a powerful connection in Kristy Cambron‘s new book, A Sparrow in Terezin. Connecting across a century through one little girl, a Holocaust survivor with a foot in each world, two women will discover a kinship that springs even in the darkest of times. In this tale of hope and survival, Sera and Kája must cling to the faith that sustains and fight to protect all they hold dear—even if it means placing their own futures on the line.

Kristy is celebrating by giving away a basket filled with goodies inspired by her new book!

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One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A set of poppy notecards
  • A poppy pin
  • A copy of I Never Saw Another Butterfly
  • A copy of the Mrs. Miniver DVD
  • Literary tea bags
  • Tumbler
  • A copy of A Sparrow in Terezin
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Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 28th. Winner will be announced April 29th on Kristy’s blog.

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What women need to hear about beauty: Review of Enough Already by Barbara Roose

Enough-Already-252x378I will be the first to admit that I don’t really care for books about beauty or modesty or self-image. But this new book by Barbara Roose grabbed me with its title, Enough Already, a clever play-on-words that says to me “stop the beauty madness!” and “you don’t have to do anything else to be beautiful; you already are.” (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.)

And Roose delivers on those two statements with candid and compassionate truth about our “ugly struggle with beauty.”

Roose is honest about her own struggles with beauty and what she sees as her own imperfections. I immediately connected with her writing voice and think she’d be a fun person to know. When talking about beauty and image struggles, I need someone who has been there and gets it. And she does. She writes:

One of the reasons I share my stories is to give you permission to drag your stories and your beauty narratives out into the open so that you can stop struggling alone. (p. 27) BRoose-292

Even the women we think are the most beautiful have a beauty narrative that defines their self-image. I’m a fan of sharing those stories and working through them together, instead of seeing beauty as a competition. Roose devotes a chapter to relationships with other women at various levels, from friends to mentors, and gives guidelines for how those relationships can develop.

One of the most valuable parts of the book for me was the acronym C.A.R.E.S.–clothing, appetite, rest, exercise and smile. None of these areas felt like impossible goals. I could see in each area something I could do to take better care of myself. One of the things I love about the book is that it doesn’t separate the physical from the emotional or spiritual. Roose does not focus only on inner beauty and ignore outward care of our bodies. Hers is a holistic approach, and that’s why her book stands out for me.

Enough Already contains questions for personal reflection and group discussion at the end of each chapter, and all of them are thought-provoking. Check this one out if you’ve had enough of the beauty battles waging in your mind or in the media!

And read on for a giveaway opportunity! There’s still a few more days to enter!

Learn how to recognize your own outer and inner beauty as defined by God, not the media or others, in Barbara Roose‘s new book, Enough Already. What would it take for you to believe you are enough already? Most women know God loves them, but might he love them more if they finally lost that last ten pounds, or got their hair to lay right, or finally found a pair of jeans that looked good and let them breathe? Well, maybe God doesn’t care about jeans, but women do, and all the talk about inner beauty hasn’t kept all of us from staring into a mirror and taking an inventory that never quite measures up.

Barbara is celebrating the release with a giveaway! One reader will receive a cash card and writing supplies for her own inner-beauty weekend getaway!

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One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A $100 cash card for your own inner-beauty weekend getaway
  • A notepad/pencil set for your inner-beauty quiet time
  • A copy of Enough Already

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 12th. Winner will be announced April 13th on Barbara’s blog.

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{NOT ON FACEBOOK? ENTER HERE.} 

A double dose of encouragement: The Art of Work by Jeff Goins and Do Over by Jon Acuff

I realize that any kind of post on April 1 is in danger of being taken as a joke, but trust me when I say, my reviews of these two books are NO JOKE! Just suspend your April Fools’ Day self for a few moments and read about these two books that unintentionally collaborate to create a whole new idea of work and purpose.

I will admit that with both of these books, The Art of Work by Jeff Goins and Do Over by Jon Acuff, I did not have myself in mind at first because I work at home as a mom and more casually as a writer. But the messages of both felt pertinent to this stage of life for our family. I am not one bit sorry I ordered either of these books. (I received an advance electronic copy of both for pre-ordering, so I’m not even required to review these books, but I want you to know all about them!)

Some background: I often feel bad about being in my 30s and not having a stable career or years of “tenure” built up at a company. The most I can boast is 7 years at the same newspaper, which felt like a lifetime, sometimes. I grew up thinking that you gave your life to a corporation or an organization, and if you didn’t find that out right after college, you were doomed to fail at life. (Okay, maybe there’s a little drama there.)

That’s no longer the narrative of the working world. And both of these books contain messages that are right and good for the times we live in.

art of workSo, first up: The Art of Work.

Rarely do I breeze through a non-fiction book, especially one that’s more business-minded. But that’s what I love about Jeff Goins’ writing. It’s creative, inspiring and encouraging, and not once while reading The Art of Work did I find myself bored or the writing dull.

The Art of Work will change your idea of calling and propel you toward embracing your purpose. Goins’ principles and observations are so simple they should be obvious but I found myself renewed and challenged by his way of thinking. Thoughts like calling being a journey and not a one-time event and how a life lived in multiple arenas is not chaotic but a portfolio. I will refer back to this book often to practice the principles and listen to my life.

If you’re not sure your life has a plan, or you’re following a plan and now find yourself lost, or you’re facing a career transition, this is a book that needs to be in your hands, not just on your shelf. Goins lays out an easy-to-follow guide that can be tailored to whatever your life entails. It’s not a how-to book in that it will give you a list of steps to follow to find your calling. It’s an invitation to listen and act based on what is already a part of your life.

I’d give this book more stars if I could! (I gave it five on Goodreads!)

Second: Do Overdo over

You guys. Jon Acuff. I have read his blogs but not any of his books, and for that I am now sorry. Acuff is funny and this book is full of his quirky humor. But it’s also practical and encouraging. Somehow (magic?) he presents useful and challenging tools for whatever job situation you might be facing without sugarcoating how hard it is to make changes. I laughed. I agreed. I groaned.

And I got excited.

Because Acuff’s book is motivating and enabling. If you walk away from his book without feeling powerful about work and career, it’s not his fault. It’s yours. I am convinced I can pursue my dreams using skills, relationships, character and hustle. And because I was reading an electronic copy, I look forward to going back over the exercises when the hard copy arrives after the book releases next week.

Acuff speaks from personal experience and tells the good and the bad in a humble and honest voice. We can learn from his mistakes and set ourselves up for a career we love.

An enthusiastic five stars for this one, too.

I have no idea if these two authors were aware of each other’s books releasing relatively close to one another, but their messages are complementary. You certainly don’t have to read both books or read them together, but if you’re feeling stuck or lost or overwhelmed by your work, I’d recommend taking a look at both of these books and letting them help you walk through the next steps.

This might be the first time in my life I read two back-to-back business-type books in a matter of days.

A new appreciation for Martha: Review of The Tomb by Stephanie Landsem

Sometimes the stories in the Bible can become so familiar they lose meaning. And if you’ve been in the church for more than a few years, the story of Mary and Martha is one of those familiar stories.

the tombWe all feel a little sorry for Martha at times (and some of us can identify with her), but after reading Stephanie Landsem’s latest book, The Tomb, I’ll never look at Martha the same way again. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

Landsem’s Living Water series has become some of my favorite biblical fiction.  You can read my reviews of The Well and The Thief to discover why, but let me just say this: she does something with history that is not easy. She imagines the circumstances that might lead a person to behave in a certain way and then puts them in the context of the biblical record. Martha’s story in The Tomb is not factual and Landsem doesn’t claim that. But it is plausible.

In this story, Martha becomes not just some ancient woman in a story but a woman we modern women can relate to.

“Who would worry about all these things if not for her?”

I won’t ask you to raise your hand if you’ve thought something similar, but that thought of Martha’s in the book could have been my own. Landsem brings a depth to characters where the Bible only scratches the surface. I love the imagination that goes into these books, and I walk away from each of them with a greater understanding of the biblical time period, a better appreciation for the women who lived through it, and spiritual truths that challenge my own daily journey with God.

If you have not yet picked up one of the Living Water series, you can start with any of them, really. They are interconnected somewhat but not in a traditional sequel format. Especially in the days leading up to Easter, I find Landsem’s books inspiring.

I’m also in love with the gorgeous covers. This one is so pretty!

Messes can become miracles: Review of More by Tammie Head

WhMORE coveratever the mess, God can work a miracle.

Author and Bible teacher Tammie Head knows firsthand because that’s what happened to her. She tells a bit of her story and encourages others to believe in God’s goodness and power to heal in her book MORE: From Messes to Miracles. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

It’s a passionate plea to not let your past or present circumstances keep you from the life God intends. More is encouraging and strengthening for anyone wondering if the life they have is all there is.

And the book is full of inspiring word art. I think my favorite one is this:

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It’s hard to read this book and not catch Tammie’s joy and enthusiasm for Jesus. If you’re in the middle of a mess, let Tammie’s words lead you to more.

Read on for a Q&A with the author to find our her heart for this message. head, tammie

1. What do you want readers to learn from reading your book?

People everywhere are looking for something more. Churched and nonchurched alike. They’re in the grocery store aisle behind you, in the nail chair beside you, singing praise songs in front of you, and perhaps in the mirror staring back at you. People feel messy; plagued by looming feelings of ineffectiveness, indifference, depression, and purposelessness. However, all of us were made for more than surviving. Old stale religion never satisfies. Neither do the solutions the world has to offer. What all of us need is an encounter with God that reveals truth and sets our hearts ablaze. I have seen this in my own life as well as in countless lives around me.

2. Your life was a bit of a mess before you came to know Christ. How has He used your story to advance His kingdom?

I have watched God use my story repeatedly as a tenderizing agent for hardened hearts toward God. People cannot believe what God has done for me. In turn, I have also been privileged to lead many people to Christ, to the One who changed me. People are glad to know God loves and pursues even the messiest of people.

3. What encouragement do you have for men and women who feel like their lives are too messy for God to use?

If God can use me, He can use anyone! But even more profound than “He can” is this: He wants to! God specializes in taking the most broken of lives and turning them around for His glory. The Bible is full of broken men and women who, after encountering the Lord, were used dramatically by God and for His kingdom.

4. What encouragement do you have for men and women who are yearning to have more in their lives?

The more we’re longing for, at the end of the day, is God. More of His presence. More of His love. More of His power. And so on! What I want men and women to know is God wants “so much more” of us than we could ever want “so much more” Him. The deal is, we must risk making more room for God. The key is sitting with Him, soaking Him in, allowing Him to minister to us on a deep level and, lastly, deeply surrendering our lives to Him day-by-day.

5. What are some resources for readers who are ready to take the next step and start living for more?

I have written a Bible study called Duty or Delight: Knowing Where You Stand with God. I think that would be a great resource for digging deeper into more of a relationship with God.

6. Where can readers connect with you online?

Readers can connect with me at several social media sites. Twitter: @tammiehead Instagram: @tammiehead Facebook: Tammie Head My website and blog: tammiehead.com

A royal tale: Review of How to Catch a Prince by Rachel Hauck

What if you’d secretly married a prince five years ago and thought the relationship had ended only to find that same prince standing in front of you with annulment papers in hand?

how to catch a princeRachel Hauck’s Royal Wedding series wraps up with How to Catch a Prince, the story of American heiress Corina del Rey and Prince Stephen of Brighton, the secret they share (and another one they don’t), and the obstacles they’ll need to overcome to find love between them again. (Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the book in exchange for a review and blog tour participation through Litfuse Publicity Group.)

Hauck’s previous books in the series, Once Upon a Prince and Princess Ever After, introduced us to the fictional kingdoms and royal families of Brighton and Hessenberg, and while reading those books would help give background for this one, you could pick up How to Catch a Prince and read it without having read the others.

I found the premise of this book interesting, but I must say I was a tad disappointed in the story overall. I loved the first two books in this series, but this one didn’t quite meet my expectations. I just wasn’t as drawn in by the characters, and I wasn’t really surprised by how things played out. Still, it was an entertaining read, and there were some unforgettable moments and lines from the book.

The overall theme of loving people well, even if it’s not romantic love, will stick with me. As will advice like,

“You can play it safe if you choose, but it’s the brave, those who face their fears, who tame the world, who win the day. Walk on waves.”

Corina does a lot of brave and courageous things and learns to fight for what matters to her. That’s inspiring. And Prince Stephen learns that exposing his secrets is the only way to live in freedom.

If you’re a fan of the real royal family and all things British, this is a great series to make you feel like you’re part of that world.

And to celebrate the launch of this book, there’s a royal giveaway! And to find out more about the author, the book and what others are saying, click here.

An American heiress and a crown prince seem destined to be together. Will the devastation of war keep them apart forever? Find out in Rachel Hauck’s new book, How to Catch a Prince. True love has a destiny all its own. With a little heavenly help, Prince Stephen and Corina embark on a journey of truth. But when the secrets are revealed, can they overcome, move forward, and find love again?

Enter to win a “royal” prize pack! 

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One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A royal-themed Brighton charm bracelet
  • 2 tickets to see the new Cinderella movie
  • The Royal Wedding series (Once Upon a Prince, Princess Ever After, and How to Catch a Prince)

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on March 23rd. Winner will be announced March 24th on Rachel’s blog.

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When women are heroes too: Review of Dauntless by Dina Sleiman

When I first saw the cover for Dauntless by Dina Sleiman, my initial reaction was, “Oh, so like Robin Hood only for girls.”

After reading the book, I’m happy to say that was a shallow assumption and a horrible first impression. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from Bethany House in exchange for my review.)

dauntlessDauntless does feature a strong female lead in Merry Ellison, a former noblewoman who has been forced into outlaw living because of the fickle and ruthless King John who ordered the murder of her family. And Merry does lead a band of fellow outcasts, mostly children, who steal to survive. But her story is much more than a retelling of Robin Hood. The similarities to that legend are few, but if you like Robin Hood, you’ll probably like this one.

This is the first in Sleiman’s Valiant Hearts series and each book will feature a strong, young female lead. (The next book has an aspiring knight on the cover!) Set in Medieval times in fictional parts of England and Britain, the books are classified as juvenile fiction, but I think they have a wider appeal.

I enjoyed the story and appreciate tales where the female is not always the “damsel in distress.” Merry has a leadership role among her group but learns that she cannot, nor does she need to, handle everything all by herself. She leads with wisdom but lets others in. She learns to trust her instincts but also to delegate and trust others.

These are valuable lessons for women of any age. I’m excited for what this series has to offer.

Yes, there is a love story in this also, and while Merry tries to deny any ideas of romance because of her situation, she discovers it is a natural part of life. The romance is not what carries the story nor does it give false impressions for younger readers.

Overall, this is a great book to share with younger readers (and then read for yourself!).

A speculative series worth investing in: Review of Beneath the Forsaken City by C.E. Laureano

Last summer I took a chance on a new series of speculative (think fantasy/adventure) fiction, even though I wasn’t sure it was the genre for me. But author C.E. Laureano hooked me from the start of The Song of Seare series, and I gobbled up book one. You can read my thoughts about it here. Book Two recently released, and my expectations were high. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my review.)

forsaken cityBeneath the Forsaken City continues the tale of the faithful men and women fighting for the heart and soul of their land which is deep in darkness under the influence of an evil king. It’s hard to talk about a second book in a series without giving away too much from the first book, so I’ll try, instead, to tell you what I like about the series overall.

First, I’m in awe of an author creating an entire world, including a language, that is similar to an existing world but not quite the same. Seare (pronounced SHAR-uh) is reminiscent of Britain, with influences from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. It’s an island nation with clans and the setting is somewhat medieval with horses, castles, kings and sword-fighting. And yet it’s entirely its own world.

At times it reminds me of Lord of the Rings and other times I think of The Princess Bride. The stories contain a lot of action and suspense, some hints of romance, and plenty of food for thought about faith, spirituality, and morality.

It is not hard to get lost in this world and be completely caught up in the characters. The stories move along at a pace that keeps you turning the pages. And book two definitely left me aching for book three. All in good time, I guess. That’s the worst part of reading the second book in a trilogy: having to wait for book three to wrap it all up!

When it comes to this set of stories, though, the wait is worth it. And the wait for book three will be worth it too.

If you’re looking for something different than what you normally read, or if you’re looking to add to your collection of fantasy/adventure stories, look to this series. (But don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

A story that teaches: Review of Remember the Lilies by Liz Tolsma

liliesEither World War II fiction is hot right now or I’m just more drawn to those stories than I ever have been. Whatever the reason, Liz Tolsma’s Remember the Lilies is another strong offering in the World War II fiction genre. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the author in exchange for my review.)

Unlike her first two books, Snow on the Tulips and Daisies are Forever, which take place in Europe, her latest focuses on the Santo Tomas Internment Camp in the Philippines, an area of World War II history about which I am under-educated. I would expect I’m not alone. American civilians were held there for a good chunk of the war and Tolsma’s book portrays what conditions were like for those who experienced it.

The story focuses on Rand Sterling, who, before the war, was a successful American businessman in Manila, and Irene Reynolds, who was raised among missionaries in the Phillipine jungle. Both are prisoners at the camp. After a failed escape attempt by Rand, their paths cross more often and the two become friends trying to make the best of the worst circumstances.

Of Tolsma’s three books, this was my least favorite. It covers a large chunk of time in which the two main characters are prisoners. Months and years pass, noted by a paragraph, and the “action” is limited to the activities of prisoners in the camp. It wasn’t boring, not in the least, but the journey the characters were on was more of an internal one. The danger was more subtle and psychological than in the other books.

Still, it’s a great story, and I’m so grateful for the untold stories Tolsma is telling with her books. Tolsma’s research and attention to detail are so good I feel like I’ve been in a history class. The scenes depict realistic suffering–violent punishment, starvation–so if that bothers you, just be forewarned.

I’d encourage you to check out any of Tolsma’s books for a better idea of what it was like to live through World War II. I’m always more thankful for the sacrifices of the people who lived during that time period after I read one of Tolsma’s books.

Help for making nutritious food for families: Review of Supermarket Healthy cookbook

I became a fan of Melissa D’Arabian years ago when she was a contestant on Next Food Network Star, and though I never got a chance to catch her show, I appreciated her food philosophy: healthy, affordable meals for a family. (D’Arabian has four kids!)

supermarketHer new cookbook, Supermarket Healthy, is a handy resource for families who want to make the most of their grocery budget without resorting to the nutritionally lacking pre-packaged meals that are often cheaper but not necessarily better. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the cookbook from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my review.)

D’Arabian offers practical tips for both the shopping and cooking phases of preparing a meal, and those tips are scattered throughout the recipes. I remember her offering these sorts of shortcut tips and tricks on the show, too. One of my favorites from the book is to always add the liquid first in the blender when making a smoothie because it creates a vortex. Previously, I would add the chunkiest ingredient, thinking it needed to be closest to the blades.

And let’s talk about the recipes. While some are a bit out of reach (and maybe more do-able in an area like California, where D’Arabian lives, because of more access to fresh produce year-round), I’ve already found some new favorites.

I’m not much of a smoothie person when it comes to breakfast but the Caffeinated Coffee-Oat Smoothie was a delicious and satisfying start to my day. I wasn’t sure it would fill me up for a morning, but it did! Super easy to make (as long as the blender is clean!) and filling. With a little do-ahead prep (cooked oatmeal), it’s pretty much a snap.

For breakfast, I also tried to Healthy Breakfast Benedict, a twist on one of my favorite breakfast dishes, eggs Benedict. This one uses spinach and a basil-cream sauce. I think this one could have been better because I didn’t properly execute the poached eggs. I usually fry my eggs, so my poaching skills are a little rusty.

Tuna Noodle Bowls was probably my favorite of the ones I’ve made so far. Our family is a big fan of tuna noodle casserole, especially on dreary winter days. It’s a comfort food that warms you from the inside out. The recipe we typically use is heavy and full of processed cheese and canned soups. So, I was eager to try D’Arabian’s take, which uses reduced-fat cream cheese, a leek and fresh lemon juice, among other ingredients. It’s a refreshing twist on the comfort food I love. Still comforting but with flavorful bursts of citrus that lighten it up. Like sunshine breaking through on a cloudy day.

I notice this trend in D’Arabian’s recipes: fresh ingredients full of flavor. And that’s part of what excites me about her recipes. I look forward to using even more of them as we move into spring and start to see more fresh produce at the farmer’s market and in the stores.

Other recipes I tried were the Poached Chicken Puttanesca, which used an olives, capers and tomatoes sauce, and Spicy Honey-Mustard Chicken, which was a last-minute dinner idea one night not long after I got the book. Both were satisfying dinners the family enjoyed.

I’ve yet to try any of the snacks, soups or desserts, but this cookbook will continue to be in my rotation for meal planning. I also hope to make more use of the pantry list at the beginning of the book so that some of these recipes are more accessible on short notice.

Overall, another winning cookbook from the Food Network folks.

You can read an excerpt here.

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Melissa d’Arabian was a corporate finance executive before becoming the host of Food Network’s Ten Dollar Dinners and Cooking Channel’s Drop 5 Lbs with Good Housekeeping. She also developed the FoodNetwork.com seriesThe Picky Eaters Project, serves as lead judge on Guy’s Grocery Games, and is the author of the New York Times bestselling cookbook Ten Dollar Dinners. Melissa has an MBA from Georgetown University, and lives with her husband and their four daughters in San Diego.