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. 
a Rafflecopter giveaway
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.