Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson

ISBN 13: 9780310724421
About the book:   Happily Ever After ...Or Happily Nevermore?  Gisela's childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father's death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela learns the duke's son, Valten---the boy she has daydreamed about for years---is throwing a ball in hopes of finding a wife, she vows to find a way to attend, even if it's only for a taste of a life she'll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten's eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined.

My thoughts: I really don’t read many fairy tale retellings but made an exception to The Captive Maiden by  Melanie Dickerson because of its absolutely beautiful cover and the reviews of her prior books which are retellings of other fairy tales. In The Captive Maiden, Ms. Dickerson expands on the story of Cinderella and her mistreatment by the wicked stepmother and stepsisters. Gisela  attends a ball and the handsome suitor is there to entrance. However, that is about the extent of the connection with the actual Cinderella tale. Frankly, I think Ms. Dickersons’ expansion of the story line and addition of scenes and plot will thoroughly engage and enthrall the reader – perhaps 13 and up to the young-in-heart.

Gisela is made to serve and scrub for the stepmother and stepsisters, but she has a sweet attitude. She loves the horses stabled on her deceased father’s land and that is a major connection between she and the handsome hero, Valten, who is the future Duke.

There is a villain who fights Valten in the jousting tournaments (think Ivanhoe and medieval times) which are described in great detail. Swashbuckling sword fights and kidnapping scenes with and fights and rescues. Sweet romance blooms. This is sure to capture to attention of anyone who enjoys a damsel in distress and a hero who is coming to the rescue.

The book drags a bit in spots, but overall it is quite an enjoyable read.  On the back cover, the publisher denotes this as “TEEN FICTION.” That it surely is but will be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a fairy tale retelling and light read. The story is replete with references to Christianity though it is not a “preachy” book. It is, after all, published by a Christian publishing house, Zondervan. It is one I can definitely recommend.

About the author:  Melanie Dickerson is the author of The Healer’s Apprentice, a Christy Award finalist and winner of the National Reader’s Choice Award for Best First Book. Melanie earned a bachelor’s degree in special education from the University of Alabama and has been a teacher and a missionary.  
I review for BookSneeze® 
DISCLOSURE:  I received a complimentary copy of The Captive Maiden from BookSneeze in exchange for my honest review. Opinions expressed are solely my own. I received no compensation for this review.

Monday, December 30, 2013

"Rest Not in Peace The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon #6" by Mel Starr

About the book:   Another slice of medieval skullduggery from the surgeon-turned-sleuth

Master Hugh, surgeon and bailiff, is asked to provide a sleeping potion for Sir Henry Burley, a friend and guest of Lord Gilbert at Bampton Castle. Sir Henry—with his current wife, a daughter by a first wife, two knights, two squires, and assorted servants—has outstayed his welcome at Bampton.

The next morning, Sir Henry is found dead, eyes open, in his bed. Master Hugh, despite shrill accusations from the grieving widow, is asked by Lord Gilbert to determine the cause of death . . . which had nothing to do with the potion.

My thoughts:  The historical setting of Rest Not in Peace is medieval England in the year 1368.  I previously read and reviewed The Tainted Coin and found Mel Starr's writing style refreshing, development of the characters interesting, educational to behavior of characters of the historical period believable, and felt very comfortable that scenes, behavior, personalities, medical practices, etc. described in the book true to the period. I base this assumption on the educational background and teaching experience of the author as well as his studies of medieval medical practices. So often historical reads are romances and filled with the give and take of the male and female protagonists.  However, in Mel Starr's The Tainted Coin and Rest Not in Peace, I discovered Master Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon and found him a character of many fine points that the author develops quite well and the books are absolutely clean reads.

The story is written first-person with the voice of Singleton.  He is the bailiff for the Lord's estate as well as a surgeon.  Author Mel Starr is a historian by education and trade and has thoroughly researched this period novel.  Included in the front of the book are words and terms to help understand the terminology of the period such as foods, pieces of clothing, and names of objects.  But you don't feel as though you are reading a history book.  

In Rest Not In Peace, Hugh de Singleton is called to the castle as the bailiff to investigate the death of a guest of Lord Gilbert. I especially enjoy the sentence structure utilized by the author that captures the mode of speech indicative of the 1360s England. True it is not "old English," but it does set the tone for a period difference. In the process of discovery and investigation, station in life in medieval England again allows that the gentry are afforded more leeway than the common man. Social order and the privilege of rank that existed and played a role in meeting out justice for those who broke the laws.

Singleton's contemplations are interesting and often take place on his way home as he crosses Shill Brook where he subtly draws analogies between the brook's water flow and the situation he is investigating. This is also a spot where he seems to calm his senses and "cleanse" himself mentally, emotionally, and perhaps even spiritually.

DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy of Rest Not in Peace from Kregel Publications on behalf of Monarch Books and the author for the purpose of my honest review. I was under no obligation to provide favorable comments. Opinions expressed are solely my own. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The decadence of Christmas and holiday sweets (or rather "Oh my, how sweet thy tooth has become.")

Having grown up in a home with a mother that was a fabulous cook par excellence and partaken of my share (and more) of cookies, pound cake, fruit cake, red velvet cake, black walnut cake, apple pie, yellow layer cake with fudge icing (6 layers, no less), and then breaking out a traditional Better Homes and Garden red checkered cookbook of my own upon my marriage in 1957, I've tasted the sweet side of life in a glorious way.

As the years of my own marriage grew longer and the number of feet pitter pattering around the house grew greater, I established my own traditions of sweet cooking to satisfy the sweet tooth that we all have and that needs tender care during the Christmas season.  I made many, many (hundreds - thousands?) of pressed cookies and packaged them for gifts to kith and kin, to neighbor and friend, and to teacher and preacher. Chocolate, sprinkled, lemon, butter. All of them.

I made pound cake - lemon, cream cheese, chocolate, maple - and I made them large and I made them small. I made layer cakes with pineapple custard "icing" or filling and layer cakes with fudge icing. I made coconut layer cakes and chocolate chiffon cakes. I made chocolate layer cake with peanut butter fondue icing. Oh I made some cakes.

And don't forget the pies - fruit, custard, chocolate, no crust, flaky crust, sweet potato, and even cushaw (just look that one up).

And this was all done with flour, sugar, milk, eggs, butter, shortening, spices, cocoa, chocolate, lemons, etc. That was and is called "scratch" cooking.  I really don't know where that particular name for cooking homemade goodies originated unless it was because sometimes the lady of the house just had to scratch around a bit to see what could be thrown together to make a dish or make a meal.

But let's talk about "Oh my, how sweet thy tooth has become." What do I mean by that?  Well all you have to do is scroll through Facebook, Pinterest, a magazine, or online cooking sites and you'll see. Sweet has become sweeter. Sweeter has become sweetest. And Sweetest has become indulgently, disastrously dangerously, despicably a free ticket on the fast track of a heart attack or some other terrible fate.

Have you seen the pictures and recipes for such creations as:
  • Sugar cookie bark - sugar cookies with a thick layer of white chocolate imbibed with M&Ms (or other chocolates), and sugar sprinkles
  • A bowl of chunks of cake layered with whipped topping and pudding plus nuts and chocolate chips and maybe even a hot caramel or fudge sauce
  • "Cookie bars" made with ready-made, refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough patted in a pan, topped with lots of pecans, then topped with a chocolate egg custard and baked. Definitely an ooey, gooey, decadent, delicious artery clogger.
  • Or how about layering cookies, whipped cream, and hot fudge sauce (two layers at least) and top with nuts, sprinkles, or whatever fancies you.
The idea is to take ready prepared (refrigerated, mixes, etc.) and combine with other high fat, high sugar, sweet products to create beautiful and decadent desserts. But the bottom line is really two-fold. 
  1. Using multiple pre-made products to create a unique or different dessert to serve one's family and friends simply sells more products at the grocery stores. Do you really need to make a pan of some decadent goodie using cookies, pudding, cake, and candies? Really?
  2. Creating products from multiple products increases your intake of fat, sugar, and other unknown ingredients tremendously. Whereas if you create a luscious dessert from ingredients found in most homes (at least in past years), you can imbibe in sweets without totally catching a ride on the fast track to disaster.
All this being said, I don't  always cook from "scratch" these days. I do use refrigerated cookie dough to make cookies. I make use of brownie mix and cake mix to make life a bit easier for me. But really now, do we really need all those sweeter than sweet sweets that use all those extra ingredients? Why put candy on top of candy?

"If You Were Me and Lived in Norway..... Kenya...... : A Child's Introuction to Cultures" by Carole P. Roman (Review & Giveaway)

I previously reviewed the first three If You Were Me and Lived in ......." (A Child's Introduction to Cultures). The first three books were about France,  Mexico, and South Korea. Today we're going to look at two more - "If You Were Me and Lived in Kenya...... and Norway." (Read reviews here:  Mexico & FranceSouth Korea)

In today's world where people are traveling with much more frequency than ever in the past and even in America where we are seeing much more interaction with the various cultures and peoples of other nations, it is of vital importance that children learn about the countries, people, and customs around the world. I have felt for a long time that knowledge of the geography of this world and "social studies" - or study of people and cultures -
is abysmal in our educational system. So the introduction of this little series for the young child is a welcome change in that which has been so lacking.

As in the earlier books in the If You Were Me and Lived In.... series, an introduction to Kenya and to Norway each features a young brother and sister and their family. You see how the language  of that country in the series is distinct to the country.

In Kenya you say Baba for daddy and Mzazi for mommy and in Norway Pappa and Mama (kind of like Papa and Mama in English). You will learn across the world that the words for daddy and mama are very similar. However, that is not the case with other words in the various languages. You're welcome in Norway is Din Velkommen. A bit similar, but different.  You will learn about the colorful country of Kenya and especially the Massai peoples located in and near the large city of Nairobi. When you venture into Norway, you will see that it is a cold land and that the "days" are extremely long - hence the name land of the midnight sun.

Carole P. Roman is dedicated to helping children learn - good conduct, good behavior, and social studies. Her interest in children learning is further illustrated in her generosity in providing copies for families to read to their children. So be sure you enter to win a copy each of If You Were Me and Lived in Kenya ...... Norway.

GIVEAWAY: Use the Rafflecopter form below to enter. You may be blessed to be the winner of a copy of each book (Kenya and Norway) that Carole P.Roman is so generously providing. I will choose TWO WINNERS FOR THIS GIVEAWAY. Begins December 11 & ENDS January 7  @ 12:01 a.m. EDT. Open to USA addresses only. 
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DISCLOSURE: A complimentary copy of each of these books was provided by the author to facilitate this review. Winner's copies are also provided by the author and will be mailed directly to the winners.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"Children's Atlas of God's World" by Craig Froman

ISBN: 9780890517062
Hardback, $18.99
Abut the book: The atlases that line the shelves of libraries and bookstores are filled with both evolutionary thought and secular worldviews. This atlas is packed with unique insights into Christian history makers and amazing landmarks. One will explore the design of ecosystems and biomes, great civilizations, and discoveries found around the world. The full-color, visually engaging book provides a valued reference tool.

A one-of-a-kind atlas that glorifies God, explores His creation, and honors His followers around the world!
  • Discover amazing wonders of God's creation, including longest rivers, tallest mountains, and more. 
  • Examine interesting factual details about Christian explorers, missionaries, and history makers.
  • Learn about geographic features and how these were formed by the Flood, plate tectonics, and volcanic activity - plus other details of God's amazing design.
Outline maps and facts regarding the seven continents are provided, as well as detailed maps and data of the featured countries. The comprehensive information provided for each focus country will bring to light their culture and traditions, holidays, exploration, legal system, and economic industries, as well as missionary accounts and other material to help children connect to people from regions around the globe.

My thoughts:  This Children’s Atlas of God’s World is precisely what its title indicates. It is written for children in the early grades, though older elementary children can also benefit from using it. It is not intended to be a comprehensive atlas of the entire World and all the countries and cultures therein. It is geared toward the young student. It should also be noted that the emphasis is on God’s World.  Those who do not wish to utilize an atlas with this emphasis should avoid it. Personally, I find it delightful and one I can recommend to parents and schools.

The plethora of information presented on each two-page spread is varied and comprehensive, especially for a book intended for young students. Information on an area’s Christian history and traditions, biomes, World Heritage sites, cultures, landmarks.  The countries that are  featured have pictures of  the people and their native costumes, animals of the locale, and information on population, monetary system, customs, holidays, and foods of the area.

I found the book to be inviting, bright, informative, engaging, interesting. And while it is definitely a children’s atlas, adults are sure to find it will capture their interest a provide information and insight that they missed somewhere along the way as they pursued their own education.

 My only concern is a prominent place is given in the book to the World Heritage Sites (UNESCO). While UNESCO has surely in some instances done good for mankind, there is a portion of its agenda and programming that most Christians are not comfortable with promoting. World Heritage Sites link

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Children's Atlas of God's World from Master Books, a division of New Leaf Publishing Group free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

"Pirates on the Farm" (The Next Door Series) by Denette Fretz and illustrated by Gene Barretta

“No one ever imagined that five swashbuckling pirates would settle in our proper little southern community. But they did.”

About the book:  When pirates move in next door, life on the farm is bound to get interesting. But will the unadventurous Sanders family be able to handle the pirates’ bad manners, ghastly grub, and outrageous antics? Or will they learn the importance of loving one’s neighbor and help the graceless pirates find their “land legs”?
Hardcover, Jacketed
ISBN 13: 9780310723486

Review:  Author Denette Fretz has written a delightful story in the brand new “The Next Door  Series” and it is illustrated with art that truly captures the characters spirit and the action of the story.

Pirates on the Farm tells the tale of sea faring pirates – and we all know that they are persons of shady character – moving next door to the Sanders family and bringing with them all their unsavory habits as they try to learn to live the life of farmers with no sea in sight.

The story is entertaining – well, that is putting it mildly because it is rip-roaring-shiver-me-timbers funny. But entertainment is a nice way of getting across to children (and those adults that read to them) a lesson in accepting and loving their neighbor.

Mom Sanders is suspicious, as are others in the community, and Pa Sanders goes over to help them unpack and move in. Some seem happy to have new, albeit different, neighbors and some are highly suspicious and wary.

Now in the back of the book, there is a section with “pirate speak” which is fun. There is also a parents’ page with discussion questions (always good because those kiddies always need a bit of guidance and have lots of questions) and a devotion.

I can see this as a great Christmas gift for that little boy in your life and it will be a great learning tool, too. So I'm thinking this is one that librarians, Moms, Dads, schools, Grandparents will all want to check out to have around for the kiddies in their lives. May be purchased at your favorite book supplier.
DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy of Pirates on the Farm" from the BookSneeze blog  review program on behalf of the publisher ZonderKidz in exchange for this review. Opinions expressed are solely my own and I received no compensation for this review.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"A Marriage in Middlebury" by Anita Higman (Review & Giveaway)

ISBN: 9781426733871
Paperback $14.99
Abingdon Press
About the book: What happens when the matchmaker finds a match for herself?Charlotte Rose Hill has been serving up country delicacies, uniquely blended teas, and matchmaking advice for her quirky but beloved customers for more than 10 years. But for her, marriage seems like an elusive butterfly, always out of reach. At 18, Charlotte fell in love with a young man, Sam Wilder, but his family convinced her to walk away from their relationship. She did, and then became engaged to another man, who later died before they were married. Now, more than a decade later, Charlotte finds that she still has feelings for her first love. Initially thrilled to learn that Sam has come home to Middlebury, Texas, Charlotte is devastated to learn that he’s brought someone with him: his fiancée. But all is not lost when the townsfolk decide to get involved. Will Charlotte and Sam find their way back to each other?

My thoughts:  Anita Higman is one of my favorite authors. Well, I have many I enjoy. But I do count Ms. Higman as a favorite. I have reviewed several of her books and look forward to more in the future.

Today we’re looking at A Marriage in Middlebury which takes place in a small town and primarily at the local Tea Shop owned by spinster (in her 30s) Charlotte who is also the sweetheart of the small town.  Charlotte seems to have a special way of making life just a little better for each and every person she knows.  Open the book, turn the pages, and fall in love with Charlotte. The question is, “Why isn’t Charlotte married?”

Another you’ll love is young Obie who is from a fractured family and whose troubles only begin once the book starts. So be prepared to open your heart a bit to him.

As you meet each character, you discover bits and pieces about them and find that there are missed opportunities, secrets, and broken spirits that need healing.  As Anita Higman crafts her characters and weaves their stories toward the book's ending, you will most likely be surprised at just how it does end and at the secrets revealed.

Friends, this is another Higman book I can recommend to you.

GIVEAWAY: Thanks to the generosity of Anita Higman, one of Chat With Vera's readers has the opportunity to win their own copy A Marriage in Middlebury.  Begins November 26 & ENDS December 19 @ 12:01 a.m. Open to those in USA mainland addresses only.
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About the author: Best-selling and award-winning author, Anita Higman, has over thirty books published (several coauthored) for adults and children. She’s been a Barnes & Noble “Author of the Month” for Houston and has a BA degree, combining speech communication, psychology, and art. Anita loves good movies, exotic teas, and brunch with her friends.

DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy of A Marriage in Middlebury in exchange for my honest review. Opinions expressed are solely my own.

Monday, November 25, 2013

"Silver Bells" by Deborah Raney

About the book: Michelle Penn has dropped out of college to work as a reporter for a tiny weekly newspaper. The boss's son, Robert Merrick III, is quickly making her forget all about her former sweetheart, Kevin, who has shipped out to Vietnam. Rob loves the newspaper business but feels trapped working for his father. He dreams of having his own newspaper, but now that he's met Michelle, she is what he wants most of all. Rob is forbidden by office policy to date Michelle, but if he were to quit his job, he'd have nothing to offer her.

As snow blankets the town, it seems that the gifts Rob and Michelle most desire -- each other -- are out of reach. But then, they didn't count on a small Christmas miracle.

My thoughts:  When the book started out, I thought, "Oh my, a cute contemporary silly-girl-meets-handsome-boy" story," and while that is right, it also develops a bit of meat as the story progresses.

Michelle is breaking into the world of newspaper journalism and meets the son of the newspaper's owner. But rules are "hands off." Michelle goes out with said handsome son on a story run and becomes engrossed with sadness at the plight of the young mother and her child. A friendship eventually develops between Michelle and the young mother and that is where the meat of the story begins to show forth.

Deborah Raney has written an entertaining and good story. She has developed characters who seem like folks you'd like to know.  Also, she has brought forth social issues (abuse) that need to be told.

DISCLOSURE: I won this book on a blog giveaway and the review is complimentary to the blogger and the author. Opinions expressed are solely my own.

"A Perfect Square" by Vannetta Chapman

ISBN:  9780310330448
Paperback $12.99
About the book:  There's more to the quaint northern Indiana town of Shipshewana than handcrafted quilts, Amish-made furniture, immaculate farms and close-knit families. When a dead girl is found floating in a local pond, murder is also afoot. And Reuben Fisher is in jail as the suspect! Reuben refuses to divulge any information, even to clear himself of a crime Deborah is certain he didn't commit. So, with her English friend, Callie---fellow sleuth and owner of Daisy's Quilt Shop---Deborah sets out to uncover the truth. But the mystery deepens when an elderly man seeks Callie's help in finding his long-lost daughter, missing since the days of the 1965 Palm Sunday Tornadoes. An old man who has lost his past. A young man who may lose his future. Once again Deborah and Callie find themselves trying to piece together a crazy quilt of lives and events---one that can bring unexpected touches of God's grace and resolve the tragedy that has shaken this quiet Amish community.

My thoughts:  When Vannetta Chapman writes, she brings her characters vividly to life for the reader and weaves a story of mystery, family, commitment, devotion, devastation, and faith filled lives. Her cozy mysteries depict the Amish in their communities and their relationships with the outside world in a believable way, and I think she truly writes as faithfully about the true side of the Amish as any author published.

In A Perfect Square, which is book 2 in the series, a body is found on an Amish farm and the local law enforcement ends up taking Reuben into custody. While circumstances seem to point to Reuben as the culprit, other forces are at play that indicate differently.

Again, Vannetta Chapman has brought surprise to the story and she has woven it into the very fabric of the Amish community. Along with the details of the mystery, she has focused on the very important quality of Amish quilt making and how they strive for perfection and take such pride in their handcrafted quilts.

I recommend Vannetta Chapman’s books for faith filled reads for anyone seeking a quality read.

DISCLOSURE: I was provided a gift copy of the book by the author and not required to render a review. The review is my gift to her. Opinions expressed are solely my own.

"Carol - A Story for Christmas" by Bob Hartman

About the book:  Jack O'Malley hates shopping, snow, and even Christmas. All three at once is Jack's idea of a very bad day. Storming into a Starbucks seeking escape, Jack runs smack into a beautiful and mysterious stranger, almost knocking her over and unintentionally changing his life forever. In this one moment his entire life—who he once was, who he is, and who he has the potential to become—flashes before his eyes. In this humorous rendering of Charles Dickens' classic tale, timeless lessons are reexamined through the lens of modern society. The result is funny, moving, and ultimately thought-provoking

My Thoughts:  A nice little Christmas novella read that is a re-take or even a spoof on A Christmas Carol by Dickens.  While it is virtually impossible to re-tell such a classic, Hartman does a nifty job of bringing a modern, funny slant to the story. It rolls along with the lovely Carol and the lecherous Jack zipping along time and space to show Jack what he could have been.

While the book focuses on the need for Jack to revisit his earlier life when he was more inclined to want to do something good in the world, I felt at times that all we needed was to give a  “name” to the charity for the little book to actually be a PR piece for some specific charity.  

The story has a nice ending and it is a warm, fuzzy read as most Christmas novellas are.

DISCLOSURE: I was provided a complimentary copy by Kregel  for the purpose of giving my honest review. Opinions expressed are solely my own. No compensation was received for this review.

Garden Botanika Twinkle Toes Sweet Mint Foot Care Gift Collection (Review & Giveaway)

Twinkle Toes Sweet Mint
Foot Care Gift Collection
Sometimes we just simply neglect to care for our feet. How many of Chat With Vera's readers truly realize the load our feet carry around all day, every day. Sure we "hear" them when they complain by aching or when we rub a blister on them or stress them with those really cute shoes we just had to have! But what do we do about it besides sit down and maybe prop them up awhile.

Just as our face needs moisturizers and care, just as our chapped, winter-reddened hands need therapeutic lotions, our feet need loving care and attention. This is especially true if you are diabetic. However, you don't have to have special health care needs to need to take care of your feet.  You just simply need to to take care of them.

The Garden Botanika collection of Sweet Mint foot care products brings instant relief to tired, overworked tootsies. It is perfect to give to yourself or someone on your gifting list.  It comes ready to give in a clear, vinyl tote. Just look at what this vinyl tote holds.... 
  • Foot Polish 4 oz. - The Sweet Mint Foot Polish cools tired feet and whisks away dry skin with finely ground, gently exfoliating, Walnut shells and Tea Tree Oil. Invigorating Peppermint Leaf Extract is softened with a touch of Vanilla. Leaves skin softer, smoother and deliciously scented.
  • Foot Treatment 4 oz. - Rich lotion is a real treat for tired feet! Revitalizing Peppermint Leaf Extract and Apple-derived AHA’s increase cell turnover, and Shea and Cacao Seed Butters provide superior moisture to instantly relieve dry, cracked skin. Delicious vanilla and peppermint scent. 
  • Foot Spray 4 oz. - Instantly revive tired, overworked feet with our new Sweet Mint Foot Spray. Peppermint, Aloe and Tea Tree Extracts refresh and deodorize while Vanilla adds a note of softness. Stash one in your gym bag for a post-workout pick-me-up.
  • Moisture Socks
Now just what does Vera think of these products? Well, first of all the fragrance is light, refreshing, and minty. When I used the cream on my feet, they felt an immediate "lift" and refreshed. They immediately felt softer and relieved. I can only imagine what frequent use of these products will bring to my feet. You know, even Southern ladies "of-a-certain-age" must admit to abusing our tootsies. Well, I have to admit that as a child growing up in the coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina, there was a lot of running barefooted and then, of course, those wonderful beach trips! Well, that starts the soles of our feet on a rough 'n tough road and in our later years we see the wear and tear. But products like Garden Botanika's Twinkle Toes Sweet Mint Foot Care Collection can sooth the roughness for you.

GIVEAWAY:  Just in time to rescue those  tired, shopping, decorating, partying, cooking feet of yours or for you to give to someone as a special gift, Garden Botanika has set aside one of these gift sets for one of Chat With Vera's readers to vie for. Begins November 25 & ENDS December 16 @ 12:01 a.m. ET. Open to USA mainland addresses only. (Note: We can not count on the winner receiving the prize by Christmas.)
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DISCLOSURE: I was provided a complimentary gift set as described above to facilitate this review. No compensation was paid me. Opinions expressed are solely my own. Product information was retrieved from the Garden Botanika website.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

"Stolen Legacy" by Diane & David Munson (Review & Giveaway)

  • ISBN-13: 978-0983559047
    Paperback $14.99
About the book:  In Stolen Legacy, ExFeds Diane and David Munson (former Federal Prosecutor and NCIS Agent) ratchet up suspense when Federal agent Eva Montanna is dragged into a dark conflict threatening her family. WWII history comes alive for her, but secrets from Grandpa Marty’s past in the Dutch Resistance expose a relentless enemy fixed on revenge. New light shines on Marty’s bravery in hiding Jewish families from the Gestapo, but what is he concealing? The Munsons’ eighth thriller unveils priceless relics and a stolen legacy, forever changing Eva’s life and her faith.

My thoughts:  Drawing from their personal experiences as a federal prosecutor and a NCIS special agent, Diane and David Munson are able to craft believable, exciting spy and thriller stories that will entertain but will also make the reader feel as though the plot was torn from the pages of the latest newspaper copy.

In Stolen Legacy we again meet Eva Montanna, but this time she is vacationing with her family at the home in which she grew up and her grandfather still lives there. But things begin to happen that are strange indeed and they seem centered around Grandfather Marty.  The danger emanates  from old, deadly tentacles that are stretched from the darkness of WWII history and the Dutch resistance. Just what was Grandpa Marty involved in? How does that affect the lives of people even today? Can Eva Montanna get her family to safe place and keep them from harm’s way?

While the story is a thriller and an adventure, you will learn about WWII and the part played by brave men and women during the war as the Dutch resisted the Germans and saved many Jewish families and individuals from the sure death they would face at the hand of the Germans.

You will love Grandpa Marty and his sweet and funny ways - watch out for him to endear himself to you! The ending is exciting and  heart warming. I challenge you to grab a copy and get reading. You can count on the books written by this dynamic team to always be clean and safe reads to share with the family.

GIVEAWAY: I am so pleased to announce that authors Diane & David Munson are providing a copy of  Stolen Legacy for one of Chat With Vera's readers. So enter using the Rafflecopter form below.  Begins November 22 & ENDS December 12 @ 12:01 ET. Open for USA "lower 48" addresses only.
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Other books I have reviewed of the Munson's:
Joshua Covenant
Night Flight
DISCLOSURE:  A complimentary copy was provided to me by the authors for the purpose of this review. No compensation was given. Opinions expressed are solely my own.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"The First Noel - Press the button and sing along" Illustrated by Nathalie Beauvois (Review & Giveaway)

Candy Cane Press / 2013
Board/Hardcover $12.99
ISBN-13: 9780824919122
The traditional Christmas carol, The First Noel, has been published in many, many forms throughout the years. Various artists have performed the song. Countless have illustrated it. The story is that of the good news of the birth of Jesus. How the shepherds and the wise men heard the tidings of the angelic song. 

The shepherds looked up and saw a star shining in the east.The song's text is given verse by verse, and since the child will have pushed the button, they can sing along learning as they sing this classic carol.

Nathalie Beauvois has crafted strong scenes that have a softness to them that sweetly brings to life for the child the scenes of the birth of Jesus. The fields, the sheep, the shepherds, the star, the sleeping baby with adoring wise men.

This study board book will be carried and loved by the young boy or girl to whom you present it. I envision a child going to sleep at night cuddling his or her favorite sleep toy and pushing the button of The First Noel once, twice, and - oh, they are asleep.

Now, just in case you don't want to wait to see if you win a copy, you purchase a copy at you favorite bookseller or at Christianbook.com
GIVEAWAY: Just in time for Christmas. Candy Cane Press, an imprint of Ideals Publications is providing one of Chat With Vera's readers the opportunity to win a copy for that special child in their life. There is no promise that the winner will receive the book in time for Christmas gifting, but the publisher will try to make that miracle happen. Begins November 20 & ENDS December 4 @ 12:01 a.m. ET. Open to USA mainland addresses only
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DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy of The First Noel from Ideals Publications in exchange for my honest review. Opinions are solely my own. No compensation was received.

Monday, November 18, 2013

"Frame 232 - A Jason Hammond Novel" by Wil Mara (fiction based on the Assignation of John F.Kennedy)

SBN13: 9781414359519
About the book:  During the reading of her mother’s will, Sheila Baker discovers that she has inherited everything her parents ever possessed, including their secrets. A mysterious safe deposit box key leads her to the answers to one of history’s greatest conspiracies: who killed John F. Kennedy? Not only does she have the missing film, revealing her mother as the infamous babushka lady, but she has proof that there was more than one shooter.

On the run from people who would stop at nothing to keep secrets buried, Shelia turns to billionaire sleuth Jason Hammond for help. Having lost his own family in a tragic plane crash, Jason knows a thing or two about running from the past. With a target on their backs, can Jason uncover the truth in time, or will this shooter finally make their mark?

My thoughts: November 22, 1963 I was a young mother of young children at home taking care of them doing the daily things mothers of young children do. We had a black and white TV that sat in the corner of our living room on a small metal stand. Simple. Inexpensive. Yet, it was a connection to what was going on in the world. We usually watched the news at night so we could keep up with what was going on in the world outside our doorstep. There was, after all, a cold war going on and America and the Soviet Union were on tender-hooks. America’s President, John F. Kennedy,  was the first ever elected Catholic to this esteemed office.  He had a charm that wooed the American people and he was from a  family of vast wealth and connections.

November 22, 1963, dawned sunny and bright in Texas and other parts of America. President Kennedy was visiting Dallas, Texas. Today it is hard to remember just what that visit was all about.  The parade was nearly over and then the nightmare exploded our safe world just as the bullet exploded in the head of President Kennedy.

In Frame 232 the author has taken this mind numbing catastrophic event in American history, woven bits and pieces of fact together to create a story that some may believe satisfies the theories who was actually behind the assignation of our President, of whether there was more than one gunman, of whether or not it as an international conspiracy or an internal one, was it a lone deranged gunman or was some other plot afoot?

Based on photographs from the day that showed the woman on the side of the street in the crowded side lines that was dressed in a coat, scarf, and sun glasses and who was perhaps holding a camera, the author has fleshed out this lady with a personality, a life, and given her fears enough to last a lifetime. Upon her death, the film she shot was passed along to her daughter with the responsibility of its safe keeping. Because that film, held a mighty secret.

Having personal recall of those dark days in American history, I found the reading of this fictional take on the event interesting. I personally never had time nor interesting in following through the years those who believed they could reveal conspiracy this or conspiracy that in connection with President Kennedy’s  assignation. We did watch with horror the replays of the assignation, capture of Oswald, murder of Oswald, swearing in of President Johnson, the despair of Jacquelyn Kennedy, the funeral of our President, and the grief of his family as well as that of our nation. I found myself delving a bit into history as I read this book to refresh my memory and to see just what substantiated the narrative.

I found the book interesting and worthy to be recommended. Is there truth in it? Well, with facts that can be substantiated, yes. But there is also fiction – it is after all, a work  of fiction as acknowledged by the author.

DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy of Frame 232 as part of the Tynale bloggers network for the purpose of review. No compensation was received and I was not expected to render a positive review.

Friday, November 15, 2013

"Passing the Music Down" by Sarah Sullivan and Illustrated by Barry Root (Review & Giveaway)

ISBN13: 9780763637538
Candlewick Press - Hardback - $16.99
Music is an art form that traditionally is shared with the young by older musicians - classroom music teachers, choir leaders, individual instrument instructors, parents, relatives, etc. Then when the child exhibits a true talent, more intense training is begun. But it is still something that is passed along. It is shared. It is taught. The fervor is shared and contagious.

In Passing the Music Down, the author has recorded in beautifully expressive lyrical language the true story of  Melvin Wine, aged Appalachian fiddler, and young Jake Krack who  greatly desires to play the fiddler just like Mr. Wine. So Jake's parents take the boy to hear the fiddler and to play for the aged fiddler. Then the fiddler invites the boy to come visit and learn from him.

They visit and finally they move nearby. The boy spends much time around the fiddler's homeplace helping with daily chores and then they relax in the evening on the porch and play their fiddles.

This beautifully illustrated book takes you to the hills of West Virginia shrouded in mist resplendent in beauty. You see the age and gentleness of the old fiddler and the hope and desire of the young boy. You see the comfort of a warm fire and the joy of the moment. 
Their lives are stitched together
in a quilt of old-time tunes.
          Passing the music down.
This is a lovely book that should be in the collection of every elementary school and public library.

GIVEAWAY:  Candlewick Press has graciously provided a copy for one of Chat With Vera's readers to vie for and one winner will receive his own copy. Begins November 15 & ENDS December 5 @ 12:01 a.m. ET. Open to US mainland addresses only.
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DISCLOSURE: A complimentary copy of the book was provided by Candlewick for the purpose of this review. Opinions expressed are solely my own. No compensation was received for this review. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Crunchmaster® launches new Popped Edamame Chips for savvy munchers (Review & Giveaway)

Crunchmaster® has launched a new line of Popped Edamame Chips and are available in two flavors — Sea Salt and Wasabi Soy. The chips are created by blending California rice and edamame (edible soy beans).
Photo by Chat With Vera®
The simple, all natural ingredients are air popped making them crisp and crunchy. True to Crunchmaster's® reputation and standards, these new Popped Edamame Chips are certified gluten free and no GMO's ingredients are used in them.

Review: Sea Salt has a nice lightly salted taste that will go with most any dip or whatever you wish to eat them with. The Wasabi Soy chips have a definite bit but do not hold a spicy aftertaste. They are nice and light with a enough "heft" for dipping or they will be great just to pick up and snack on.

Photo by Chat With Vera®
Talking points on these new chips:
  1. All Natural
  2. Saturated Fat Free
  3. Cholesterol Free
  4. Certified Gluten Free
  5. No Bioengineered Ingredients
GIVEAWAY:  Here is your chance to try a bag of each of these new Popped Edamame Chips plus 4 other bags of CrunchMaster Crackers provided by the good folks at CrunchMaster! Begins November 15 & ENDS December 9 @ 12:01 a.m. ET. Open to US mainland addresses only. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway DISCLOSURE: I received a bag of each of the Popped Edamame Chips to sample and review. I received no compensation for this review. The giveaway prize will be shipped directly to the winner from Crunchmaster.

For Every Season (Amish Vines and Orchards #3) by Cindy Woodsmall

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In the series, Cyndi Woodsmall has created complicated characters living complicated lives in a new community of Amish and she manages to keep the reader on his toes right up the final pages. While it is not necessary to read these books in order, it definitely does help to do so. I believe a 4th in the series is due out in Spring 2014. I look forward to reading it.

Now in book 3, For Every Season, our characters  siblings Leah, Samuel & Jacob King, Rhoda Byler, gifted horticulturalist and possessor of a sense of second sight, and London Olsen continue to bring to life an orchard and establish a new Amish community in the Maine area.

Jacob remains a very complicated character whose past continues to intrude hindering his relationship with Rhoda. Samuel loves Rhoda and respects the relationship blossoming between Jacob and Rhoda – at least most of the time.

I look forward to seeing where life will take these hard working young Amish and with whom each of them will share their lives.

DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy review to facilitate this review. No compensation was received for this review and I was not expected to provide a positive review.

"HANDEL Who Knew What He Liked" by M.T. Anderson & illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Review & Giveaway)

A droll biography reveals the high notes—and the low notes—in the life of the world’s foremost composer of Baroque music.
This is not your usual picture book biography. Nor was George Frideric Handel your everyday eighteenth-century composer. This witty and yet rigorously researched and accessible biography captures Handel’s essential spirit—from a child who smuggled a clavichord into the attic to play music against his father’s orders to a young man who imported forty-five pounds of mountain snow to chill wine for a gala—as well as his remarkable, enduring musical triumphs. But M. T. Anderson also shows Handel’s struggles and chronicles the illness, ill fortune, and despair that led to his greatest achievement, the Messiah. With impeccable detail and a wink at the reader, Kevin Hawkes illustrates the singular story of Handel and the music through which he lives on.
My thoughts:  There are not many 8-12 year olds who would willing pick up a biography of Handel or any other musician from "ancient" history. However, M.T.Anderson's and Kevin Hawkes' witty yet factful story with illustrations that would appeal to the younger and not repel the older reader is engaging and will capture their attention. So the reader that needs to learn to read biographies yet would find the typical versions unappealing has a great choice in this biography.

The author brings out that as a child HANDEL was willful and intent on getting his way and do what he liked - playing music. He grew to be a man strong in spirit who took control of who he was and what he did and where he did it. His music has survived since the early 1700s.  The young reader will enjoy the drama in the story-telling, the humor, and the tidbits of additional information tucked at the bottom or side of the pages.
I think it is very appropriate to review this book and bring respect to the composer of The Messiah - one of the greatest and most inspiring oratories ever written - George Frederick Handel, as the Christmas season approaches and choirs across the world will sound forth the glorious chords and vibrant message in music of The Messiah. Like the author, M.T.Anderson, I too have sung parts of The Messiah. My husband sang it with the University of North Carolina choir years ago. We thank you, Mr. Handel for this wondrous music.
I encourage parents, music teachers, classroom teachers, and librarians to get a copy of this biography of Handel for their readers age 8-12.

GIVEAWAY: Candlewick Publishing has graciously provided a copy for one of Chat With Vera's readers to vie for. This is just in time to be a Christmas gift for that young reader in your life. Begins November 14 & ENDS November 29 @ 12:01 a.m. ET. Open to US addresses only.
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DISCLOSURE: I was provided a complimentary copy for the purpose of this review. I received no compensation and was not required to write a positive review.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"The King of Little Things" by Bill Lepp & illustrated by David T. Wenzel (Review & Giveaway)

ISBN: 9781561457083
Hardcover $16.95 Peachtree Publishers
About the book:  Long ago in a faraway realm, the King of Little Things ruled happily over all things small - from buttons to beetles, from marbles to macaroni. When King Normous thinks he has finally become the ruler of all the world, he is enraged to learn that the King of Little Things still reigns happily in his tiny kingdom. Normous sends his army to defeat this upstart, but he finds he cannot outfight or outwit a king who holds sway over the little things of the world. After all, it is the little things that keep the big things going.

My thoughts:  What a treasure trove of delightfully interesting things and critters. While the story alone is precious in its telling of haughty King Normous (for enormous) and his gluttonous raging appetite to be king of everything, and while the end result is his downfall at the hand of all the little things (screws, spiders, needles, pins, etc.) ruled by the King of Little Things, the illustrations pair so beautifully it is a reader's-trip to see it all.

I love Bill Lepp's story and it is full of meaning and intent while still being told as a fairy tale with magical kingdoms. Mr. Lepp's weaving words is a wordsmithing skill that delights the reader. And I love the illustrations that work so beautifully with the story.  This is truly a good book for home libraries, public and school libraries, and gift-giving. Speaking of which, we have a major gift-giving season coming us. Check out the giveaway....

GIVEAWAY:  Peachtree has graciously provided a copy of this delightful book for one of Chat With Vera's readers to win. Hopefully it will be to the winner by Christmas and make some child a special Christmas gift. Begins November 13 & ENDS November 28 @ 12:01 a.m. ET. Open to US mainland addresses only.
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Author, Bil Lepp is a nationally renowned storyteller who has been featured numerous times at the National Storytelling Festival, at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and at major events across the country. He is also a recipient of the Storytelling Circle of Excellence Award. He lives in West Virginia.

Illustrator, David T. Wenzel is an illustrator and children's book artist, best known for illustrating the graphic novel edition of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. He lives in Connecticut.

DISCLOSURE: I was provided a complimentary copy to review by Peachtree Publishers with no obligation for positive review. No compensation was received for this review.

Strait of Hormuz (A Marc Royce Adventure) by Davis Bunn

About the book:  An under-the-radar phone call from the U.S. State Department puts Marc Royce once again on assignment--ferreting out rumors of a clandestine operation stretching from Asia to the Mideast. At stake is Iran's threat to blockade the narrow Strait of Hormuz, cutting off vital shipping routes and escalating global tensions beyond the breaking point.

Under the guise of investigating money laundering via high-end art purchases in Europe, Royce finds himself in Switzerland with only sketchy information, no backup, and without a single weapon other than his wits.

His appointment with a gallery owner in Geneva is a dead end--the man is on the floor with a bullet through his chest. But it turns out Royce does have backup. The Mossad has sent someone to keep an eye on this undercover op, which is of more than casual interest to the Israelis. And it's someone Royce knows...

My thoughts:  I continue to be amazed at the writing of Davis Bunn. He is capable of writing on so many levels. This series, the Marc Royce Adventures, features an uncompromising man who is a determined warrior for the United States. But his loyalty is also to truth, honesty, and right. Working as an off-record CIA agent, his reputation for effectively handling impossible situations and his integrity still brings trusting involvement directed to him from high officials in the US Government.

Straight of Hormuz begins explosively. It ends sweetly. Not a bad combination but it is the pages between explosive and sweet that matter. It is the international intrigue, deception, and identification of who is a good guy and who is not that create the suspense, the drama, the story.

This is a story of finding God and finding oneself. It is a story of discovering what you love most in this world. 

Bunn has beautifully described each and every scene and drawn believable word pictures. His characters are clearly identified yet leave room for the reader's imagination to draw their own mind pictures.  His treatment of international and terrorist threats and intervention is exciting and right on target. Again, a good book by Davis Bunn.

DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy from Bethany House a division of Baker Publishing Group for the purpose of review. No compensation was received. No requirement for a positive review.

Davis Bunn is the award-winning author of numerous national bestsellers with sales totaling more than seven million copies. His work has been published in sixteen languages, and his critical acclaim includes three Christy Awards for excellence in fiction. Formerly a business executive working in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, Bunn is now a lecturer in creative writing and Writer in Residence at Regent's Park College, Oxford University. He and his wife, Isabella, divide their time between the English countryside and the coast of Florida.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Love Finds You Under the Mistletoe - An Appalachian Christmas & Once Upon a Christmas (2 novella anthology) by Irene Brand & Anita Higman

About the book: Two Christmas stories - one historical, one contemporary - under one cover. Love Finds You under the Mistletoe: An Appalachian Christmas - A promise to her dying sister compels Julia Mayfield to take her young nephew to Mistletoe, Kentucky, a tiny town tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains. Sparks fly when she meets David Armstrong, a World War II veteran like herself. Even as shadows from the past weave a dangerous web around Julia and David, will their love flourish like the mistletoe that blankets the nearby hills?

Love Finds You under the Mistletoe: Once Upon a Christmas - EveHollie Goodnight's store has just been voted best Christmas shop in America. All the new publicity draws flamboyant novelist Van Keaton to the cozy town of Noel, Missouri, demanding to write Hollie's story - a dramatic tale of misfortune and triumph. She is swept up in his world of beautiful words and fanciful interludes...until Owen Quigly, her lifelong best friend, launches a plan to win her back. (from Goodreads.com)

My thoughts:  I thoroughly enjoy novellas centered around Christmas that are sweet, endearing, hold a glimmer of truth, and leave a warm-fuzzy feeling. That is just what authors Irene Brand and Anita Higman have accomplished.  Ms. Brand has woven a delightful tale in Love Finds You under the Mistletoe: An Appalachian Christmas that draws the heart and mind to the beauty of untamed and unclaimed and unspoiled living in the Appalachian Mountains at the end of WWII. This is a period of time in history when much progress was being made in the "outside" world and yet progress that had eluded the Appalachians needed to penetrate yet not destroy. This tender story revolves around the mistletoe for which the town is name but the real clincher for it doesn't come until the end and that is the connection between the two novellas that are a couple of generations apart.

Anita Higman, author of Love Finds You under the Mistletoe: Once Upon a Christmas, has brought a delightful story to the table in this set of two. How Holly came to connect with the Christmas Shop in Noel and the love she has for her "fathAr" is so tender and sweet. Her interaction with the two young men - one an old friend and the other a newcomer are fun to watch. I can say I really enjoy Anita Higman's writing. (See my other reviews of her works on Chat With Vera).

Now if you can find a bookstore with a copy or a library be sure you grab it for an enjoyable "Christmas" evening read that is relaxing and pleasurable. 

DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy of this book from author Anita Higman with no obligation to review. It was a pleasure to read and review.

Books by Anita Higman reviewed on Chat With Vera:
Texas Wildflowers
Winter In Full Bloom
A Merry Little Christmas

"Peril" Book 3 in the Bloodline Triology by Jordyn Redwood (Review & Giveaway)

I began reading brand new novelist, Jordyn Redwood's first book and it captivated me with its intensity, authenticity, colorful characters, and great readability. Ms. Redwood could be a stand-alone-professional author without ever again darkening the doors of a hospital ER or PICU. But since she excels majestically in nursing skills and knowledge and since she has taken her nursing to an entirely new level by bring to her reading audience the life she actually lives day-to-day and laced that living with fringe elements of medicine and science, we can see why she contracted with her publisher for the Bloodline Triology that included Proof, Poison, and now the final  one - Peril. Her one-word alliteration for titles speaks succinctly of her wordsmithing skills. Now a word or so about book three -  

The story evolves around nurse, Morgan Adams who exists traumatized by her baby's death of a sever health problem, and her neurosurgeon doctor-husband, Tyler Adams. Dr. Tyler Adams is a highly principled physician who has begun to work a side-line with a NeuroGenics group. He begins to see major problems with the program and seeks out its leader for answers and solutions. 

Lives hang in the balance. Ethics take a back seat. Legalities of the program and personal risks to the patients are swept under the rug. We see brutal antagonists and power play gone a-muck. 

Peril is a great stand alone book as are Proof and Poison. It is really good to read all three in sequence to get all the inter-connectivity and personality interplay.

Jordyn Redwood, my question to you is, "What is next on the docket for you?" I can hardly wait to see what your creative mind is now working on.

GIVEAWAY:  The author, Jordyn Redwood, has provided Chat With Vera a copy to give one of my readers. Simply follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter entry form below.  Open to USA addresses ONLY. Begins November 11 & ENDS December 3 @ 12:01 a.m. ET. 
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DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy of Peril in exchange for my honest review from Kregel Publishing. The giveaway copy is provided by the author for one of Chat With Vera's readers enjoyment.