Wednesday, September 30, 2015

It's Pumpkin Time, Again

It’s that time of year – again!

I was cruising the aisles of the grocery store and it seemed that around each turn there was something PUMPKIN! It is amazing how that virtually tasteless gourd can so take over the mind and appetite of sensible folks.

I’ve been seeing it on Facebook and in Internet ads for virtually anything edible or drinkable. Gotta have that “Pumpkin ????” Whatever!

Now don’t get me wrong. I enjoy Pumpkin Bread – the homemade variety and preferably made with fresh pumpkin that you laboriously cut, scoop out, and bake to get the flesh to make that delicious bread with. It’s really not bread folks. It is CAKE!

And I enjoy a delicious, old fashioned pumpkin pie as well. Again, best made with fresh pumpkin but the canned variety does nicely as well.

Pumpkin Latte? Not in my coffee cup. 

DISCLOSURE: Folks these great pictures are from the Internet and I am just borrowing them. I hope the owners of the pictures will forgive me because I just liked them and wanted to "spice" up my little dialogue a bit. 

Psst!!! Meet me at aisle 4 and help me decide which to get!

Life is Beautiful by Sarah M. Johnson

Life is Beautiful: How a Lost Girl Became a True, Confident Child of God, by Sarah M. Johnson, takes you on a full journey of trauma, loss, and finally resilience. While on a mission’s trip in Guatemala, a small Cessna Caravan’s engine blows while carrying fourteen passengers. Unfortunately, the Cessna crashes in a remote village, leaving eleven of the fourteen passengers dead. One passenger, Sarah, shares her story in Life is Beautiful, about the deaths of her father and brother; her mother’s extreme physical and emotional injuries, and Sarah’s self-discovery to accept this new life.

Life is Beautiful, however, is more than a story about an airplane crash. Life is Beautiful shares the personal struggles of Sarah’s father’s drug use, his recovery, and redemption to be a better person. He gives back by doing missions work in Africa, takes in Sarah’s aunt dying of uterine cancer, and eventually leads their family to the mountains of Guatemala. Sarah also discusses her struggles with alcohol use and depression; where she eventually hits rock bottom. It is not until she starts seeking God through prayer, books, and therapy, where she starts to turn her life around.

Life is Beautiful is not only a unique story, but it shows the strength of God’s Will. When all hope is lost, she never gives up on God. This story is a true testimony of God’s love for His people, and when one seeks a spiritual journey and connection with God; He gives back in love, forgiveness, and happiness.

To learn more, go to

NOTE: I have not read this book and therefore can not recommend it or give any opinion on it. The premise of the book sounds great and that is why I have agreed to share it with you. In the author information provided to me, the author references the Power Within. It is my opinion that the only power in us that enables us is God and His Holy Spirit and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

"Pink October" Awareness of Breast Cancer - Glamulet Goes Pink With Charms & Bracelets to support Breast Cancer Pink October 2015 by Glamulet! #GlamuletPinkOctober

When my daughter was undergoing breast cancer treatments, it seemed to me that PINK was everywhere and I so very much wanted to share the story of awareness of breast cancer and its devastation and the story of research, treatment, and survival with everyone!
Pink Limited Edition Charms were created to support the Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign. For every set of charms added to the cart, 50% is donated to a charity organization. 

When my daughter was going through her chemo treatments, the school at which she taught supported her! The teachers all wore pink t-shirts created especially for her support. They sent her pictures of them in the school wearing these t-shirts and she was able to see them on her phone during her treatments. What are you doing to support an individual during their battle? Or to support all the women during and after their sojourn into the fearsome world of Breast Cancer?

Be pretty. Share pretty. And "Go Pink." Now Glamulet helps you do just that. Do it for yourself. Do it for that mom, sister, aunt, friend who is in need of your support. For every charm you buy, Glamulet will donate 50% of the sales to a charity fund for breast cancer.

About the brand

Glamulet is a jewelry brand that specializes in Charms. Glamulet designs, manufactures and sells a wide range of modern and quality Charms that make possible to create a unique Bracelet. Most of these Charms are made of 925 sterling Silver, Swarovski crystals, Murano glass and various kinds of man-made & natural stones. We wish to allow every woman to express herself thanks to an affordable collection of high quality jewelry: that’s why our priority is to present our collections at an affordable price. Launched in 2014, Glamulet has already satisfied shoppers from Europe, USA, Canada, South Africa and Asia and is still looking to expand. Glamulet is also aware of its social responsibility. The brand's engagement in the breast cancer support campaign Pink October shows that they aim to bring to women the welfare they deserve.

DISCLOSURE: Abiding by FTC guidelines, this is to advise that this is a sponsored post "Powered by BrandBacker." I will receive a sample from Glamulet of the product for my assistance. No other compensation has been provided.

Monsters: "Dining With . . . Monsters! A Disgusting Way To Count To 10!" by Agnese Baruzzi [Review & Giveaway]

ISBN 9788854409538
Hardcover - $14.95
European Import - Ages 3-5
As I said in a previous book review, I'm not particularly fond of monsters. Well, what I mean is monster stories and all the stuff 'n nonsense that goes along with scary, hairy stuff. But I recently had the opportunity to snag two or three "monster" books written for the very young, and I have been delightfully surprised. So here is my next "monster" book review.....

In Dining With... Monsters! A Disgusting Way To Count To 10! the author, Agnese Baruzzi, has imagined and brought to the kiddies a delightfully disgusting look at monsters and all the revolting stuff they might eat and presented this absurd information in a unique lift-the-flap book. Kiddies will love it. They will giggle. They will scrunch up their face. They will drag this little book around with them trying to disgust mommy or daddy many times. So just what do monsters dine on?

First of all, "Horrible Monster" (he is black) introduces his friends - 9 of them. Each is horribly different and very imaginative.
The Horrible Monster black-as-coal.... gobbled up 1 spider whole
The Giant Troll that shrieks and whines... gobbled up 5 porcupines!
As you can see, the names are descriptive of the monsters "features" and what they eat rhymes with their name. The illustrations are boldly drawn in vivid colors with each monster completely taking up the two page spread.

This is a scary fun book. Have a bit of fun with this one and laugh with your little ones.
Begins September 30
ENDS October 15 @ 12:01 a.m. ET. 
 Open to USA addresses only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
About the author: Graduated with a degree in graphic design from the ISIA in Urbino and currently living in the hills between Imola and Bologna.. I've been working as an illustrator and author of about 40 children's books published in Italy, England, France, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Brazil, Canada, the United States.  She leads workshops for kids in schools and libraries and works as an illustrator with agencies, graphics studios, and publishers.

DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy to facilitate this review. Opinions are mine and I was not compensated.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

MONSTERS: "The Color Monster: A Pop-up Book of Feelings" by Anna Llenas [Review & Giveaway]

ISBN: 9781454917298
Hardcover $19.95
European Import
I'm not particularly fond of monsters. Well, what I mean is monster stories and all the stuff 'n nonsense that goes along with scary, hairy stuff. But I recently had the opportunity to snag two or three "monster" books written for the very young, and I have been delightfully surprised.

In Anna Llenas' The Color Monster: A Pop-up Book of Feelings there is a wonderful presentation in page after page of engaging pop-ups that children will absolutely love. They virtually leap off the page.

What is doubly nice about the book is the simplistic drawings. Just picture in your mind how a child would draw a "scary monster." Well, that is much the way these drawings are. And the way this fun book takes the scary out of our feelings of sadness (blue), anger (red), fear (black), happiness (yellow), calm (green), and that sweet-pink-feeling of love is artistically unique.

Delightful monsters and delightful illustrations that kiddies will love.
Begins September 29
ENDS October 14 @ 12:01 a.m. ET. 
 Open to USA addresses only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Such a cute picture of the author
Anna Llena with Color Monster. (Source:
About the author/illustrator: Anna Llena has a degree in Advertising and Public Relations from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and a Master in Art-Therapy from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. A Diploma in Graphic Design from the Llotja School of Barcelona and Formed in Graduate Creative Illustration by Eina School in Barcelona. Professionally she works as author and illustrator of books as an art therapist.

DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy to facilitate this review from Sterling Publishing. Opinions are mine and I was not compensated.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Methuselah Project By Rick Barry - a novel from Kregel Publications [Giveaway]

ISBN 9780825443879
 $14.99 | Paperback
Kregel Publications
About the book: Nazi scientists started many experiments. One never ended.

Roger Greene is a war hero. Raised in an orphanage, the only birthright he knows is the feeling that he was born to fly. Flying against the Axis Powers in World War II is everything he always dreamed--until the day he's shot down and lands in the hands of the enemy.

When Allied bombs destroy both his prison and the mad genius experimenting on POWs, Roger survives. Within hours, his wounds miraculously heal, thanks to those experiments. The Methuselah Project is a success--but this ace is still not free. Seventy years later, Roger hasn't aged a day, but he has nearly gone insane. This isn't Captain America--just a lousy existence only made passable by a new-found faith. The Bible provides the only reliable anchor for Roger's sanity and his soul. When he finally escapes, there's no angelic promise or personal prophecy of deliverance, just confusion. It's 2015--and the world has become an unrecognizable place.

Katherine Mueller--crack shot, genius, and real Southern Belle--offers to help him find his way home. Can he convince her of the truth of his crazy story? Can he continue to trust her when he finds out she works for the very organization he's trying to flee?

Thrown right into pulse-pounding action from the first page, readers will find themselves transported back in time to a believable, full-colored past, and then catapulted into the present once more. The historical back-and-forth adds a constantly moving element of suspense to keep readers on the edge of their seats.
Chat With Vera's Review will be posted Oct. 5
Begins September 28
ENDS October 10 @ 12:01 a.m. ET. 
Open to USA Only
a Rafflecopter giveaway
DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy from Kregal Publications in exchange for my review. Opinions are my own. No compensation was received for this review. Giveaway copy is provided by Litfuse Publicity Group.

Ties That Bind (Amish of Summer Grove series) by Cindy Woodsmall {Review & $10 Family Christian App. Cert. Giveaway}

About the book: Ariana’s comfortable Old Order Amish world is about to unravel. Will holding tightly to the cords of family keep them together—or simply tear them apart?

Twenty-year-old Ariana Brenneman loves her family and the Old Ways. She has two aspirations: open a café in historic Summer Grove to help support her family’s ever-expanding brood and to keep any other Amish from being lured into the Englisch life by Quill Schlabach.

Five years ago Quill, along with her dear friend Frieda, ran off together, and Ariana still carries the wounds of that betrayal. When she unexpectedly encounters him, she soon realizes he has plans to help someone else she loves leave the Amish.

Despite how things look, Quill’s goal has always been to protect Ariana from anything that may hurt her, including the reasons he left. After returning to Summer Grove on another matter, he unearths secrets about Ariana and her family that she is unaware of. His love and loyalty to her beckons him to try to win her trust and help her find a way to buy the café—because when she learns the truth that connects her and a stranger named Skylar Nash, Quill knows it may upend her life forever.    

Ties That Bind is the first novel in the Amish of Summer Grove series.

My thoughts: This is not the typical Amish novel where the beautiful, dedicated, and tranquil life within the community rolls along like a buggy trip through the lush countryside. No. A darker side of the community of believers is brought forth. Secrets. Fear. A much different community of people inhabit Summer Grove.

As typical with Amish communities, there is shunning when a member leaves the community for the outside world. Ariana, the young Amish woman who felt the heart-wrenching betrayal five years prior to the opening pages of Ties That Bind when her beloved Quill abruptly leaves the community and takes her dear Frieda with him. However, typical of a sweet Amish lady, Ariana continues to care for Quill's mother who is ill and all alone in the community.

I was certainly surprised as Ties That Bind unfolded its many layers revealing feelings, faith, and futility. I was surprised at the fear and secrecy that surround an individual's or a families' plans to leave the community.

This is a well written book with characters that are well developed and believable. The emotional experiences of the characters is well expressed by the author.

While I never enjoy turmoil, secrets, and lives lived in fear, the author has written a believable story and it is one I can highly recommend.
$10 Family Christian Appreciation Certificate
Begins September 28 & ENDS October 9 @ 12:01 a.m. ET 
 Open to USA addresses only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy from the Blogging for Books Review Program on behalf of Waterbrook Press to facilitate this review. Opinions are mine and I was not compensated. The Family Christian $10 Appreciation Certificate is provided by them and mailed directly to the winner.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted: Birdie Friends! by Jill Esbaum & illustrated by Nate Wragg [Review & Giveaway]

ISBN: 9781454908791
Hardcover ~ Ages 4-7
About the book: Elwood Bigfoot is big, clumsy, LOUD . . . and lonely. It's hard for him to make friends—especially with the tiny, delicate birdies he loves so much. Each flash of their feathers, each chirp and cheerful song helps him feel less alone. But whenever a birdie swoops by, and Elwood hollers at it to STAY, the scared creature flies away. He tries everything: sitting on a branch, having a housewarming party, even building an amusement park with snacks and pools. But nothing helps—until Elwood finally learns how to make his bird dreams come true.

My thoughts: This is a charming book illustrated in simple drawings that a child can grasp and identify with because they look similar to the drawings a child might make. The colors are primary and softened. Elmer has shaggy fur and dots for his eyes. The trees spiky. Flowers simple. Clouds just like Johnny or Susie might draw. So the initial connection a child can make of identifying with Elwood is with the illustrations.
Reprinted with permission from Elwood Bigfoot © 2015 by Jill Esbaum, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Nate Wragg.

The story is great for a picture book that is wonderful either read to young children or read by young readers themselves. The cadence, while not rhyming, flows beautifully and expresses the heartfelt emotion of lovable Elwood's despair over trying to gain friends and his disappointment in failure.

This book will open the window of insightful discussions on how we can have difficulty making friends because of our behavior that might scare them off. Perhaps they are not really scared, but are just not accustomed to something about us. We're different. We try to make friends. We fail. We try again. We learn what it is that causes us not to make friends. We adjust. We learn to get along and be accepted.

Elwood Bigfoot Wanted Birdie Friends! He truly wanted birdie friends, and he worked hard at getting those friends. In the end he and the birdies are happy.

A sweet book that is not too pretty for boys and not too boyish for girls. Just right to get a good lesson across without heavy handed teaching. Get ready to fall in love with this sweet Bigfoot critter.

Let's hear a bit from Jill Esbaum, author

What is the motive behind the story line of Elwood Bigfoot and Birdie Friends?  

I decided to watch Finding Bigfoot one evening to see for myself just how cheesy it was. One thing struck me:  they were always talking about “a” bigfoot. I couldn’t help thinking that the poor things must be lonely. From there, it was only a matter of days before Elwood popped into my head. That isn’t to say his story popped into my head so easily. Elwood Bigfoot:  Wanted:  Birdie Friends was my third try at finding the story that worked for him.

Do you enjoy being outside? 

Yes. I’m a small-town girl who grew up in a camping/fishing family. Childhood summers were spent in Minnesota/Wisconsin/Iowa campgrounds or traveling across the country, overnighting in National Parks and National Forests along the way. Now, I live on a farm in the wide-open, rolling hills of eastern Iowa and have a dog who is always up for a trek across the fields.

Are the "birdies" special to you as they are to Elwood?

Yes, I’ve always kept an eye on the sky to see who’s hanging around the yard. My grandparents gave me a bright lime parakeet for my 10th birthday. Maybe that’s what started it. Birds are so small and vulnerable, which makes them excellent stand-ins for kiddos, of course. 

A downloadable activity kit is also available on the author’s website at
Begins September 23 ENDS October 14 @ 12:01 a.m. ET
 Open to USA addresses only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
DISCLOSURE: I was provided a complimentary product to facilitate this review by Sterling Publishing. Opinions expressed are my own. Product information was provided by Sterling Publishing. Giveaway copy is provided by Sterling shipped by them to the winner. I was not compensated for this review.

Beanfields Bean & Rice Chips: Snacking on the quality stuff!

Oh my! I never envisioned that good for you could taste so good! Super high in protein and fiber and super low in fat, Beanfields chips brings snacking to a new level of goodness. The taste is superb. My first crunch into the Beanfields Sea Salt chips (black beans and rice) was awesome.

The other flavors I tried were Nacho, Pico De Gallo, Ranch, and Barbeque. They are all super good, but I prefer the SeaSalt and find it suits me more. My husband like the Nacho. The Picco DeGallo has a really nice spicy taste with a bit of bite, but not too much "bite."

With football season here and time for lots of crunchy nibble time, these would be perfect and you'll feel good because your choice is healthier and better for you than other snacks.

Family owned, they are doing chips "right." I love success stories and I believe the Beanfields story qualifies as one.

Product information (from Beanfields' website) - find their store locations by clicking here.

Beanfields chips are first and foremost a great tasting snack. In fact, Beanfields chips have won numerous taste awards! Our distinctive crunch and delicious flavors will make us your anytime, go-to chip. And that's even before you realize how much better for you they are!

  • 6 g of fiber per serving
  • 5 g of protein per serving
  • 4.5 g of fat per serving
  • Contains no major food allergen ingredients
  • Certified gluten-free
  • Non-GMO Project Verified
  • Vegan
  • Kosher

DISCLOSURE: I received samples of Beanfields' products to facilitate this review. Opinions are  my own and I was not compensated for this review.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Oswald: Return of the King By: Edoardo Albert [Historical fiction amid Dark-Ages Britain]

ISBN: 9781782641162
$14.99 Paperback
Lion Fiction
About the book: The second book in The Northumbrian Thrones series follows the young prince Oswald as he seeks to regain the throne taken from his family by Edwin.

The exiled family of King Æthelfrith of Northumbria arrive, after much hardship, on the island of Iona, where the monastery founded by St Columba has become a center of worship and learning. Amid the violence and turbulence of Dark-Ages Britain, the island appears a sanctuary to the hunted princes and Oswald, having become firm friends with a novice named Aidan, enters the church along with his younger brother, Oswiu.

My thoughts: I read the first book in this series, Edwin High King of Britain, and you can read my review by clicking here. In  Oswald Return of the King Edoardo Albert writes about the early shaping of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England. The land was peopled by clans and kingdoms constantly contending through conspiracies and war to maintain control. Families of high rank called forth loyal men to follow them into war to claim or reclaim lands previously belonging to their own kings or lords.

Oswald, eldest son of a deposed and slain king, wants to remain on the Holy Island as a monk spending his time in prayer, worship, and quiet but the Abbot of the monastery sees the need for Oswald to claim his right to be king because in doing so, Oswald will have the opportunity to bring Christianity to the pagans. So Oswald and his younger brother Oswiu leave the Holy Island and begin to rally their army to go forth and claim his kingdom. The book is subtitled Return of the King.

The entire story is moving toward the goal of Oswald and his kingdom. As it unfolds, the author's writing skill and strong knowledge of history is evident. While it is difficult to follow the roaming of the characters and to grasp their strange names, it is none-the-less a good read and pleasant. The subtle humor in spots and the turn of a phrase that brings speech authenticity to the characters makes the story enjoyable.

This was a brutish, pagan, harsh people to whom death and war were close companions. The world is termed "middle earth" by the people as it is between heaven and hell (or the lower regions).  The religious beliefs flux between whatever god the religious leader (each clan called their religious leader by a different term) claimed was favoring them at the time.

Edoardo Albert has given us another look into what life was probably like in the mid-600s AD.  The land area had been settled as far back as memory allowed and long before the Romans arrived or before Christianity arrived.  The characters in the story mention large stones from the old people who were giants (Stonehenge?) and of the large wall (Hadrian's Wall?) from the "time before."
Bamburg Castle in Northumberland, England
Of note, the cover features a stylized raven. The raven plays a major role in the story. There is a raven that is a "pet" of Oswald's. For a raven to "friend" a king, it bespeaks special powers for that king. The people are very superstitious and believe that raven's foretell what is to come.  And of course, the ever present dead on the battlefields being ravished by ravens.

A good read. There are bits of information online that the interested reader can pursue:

DISCLOSURE: I was provided a complimentary copy by Kregel to facilitate this review. Opinions are my own. I was not compensated.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Crunchmaster Gluten Free and NON-GMO Crackers [Review & Giveaway]

Awhile back I had the splendid opportunity to taste something new, different, and good for you. "Natural" and NON-GMO is starting to look and taste pretty good these days - thanks to the folks at Crunchmaster! And now I'm parterning with them to bring a nifty goodie basket of Crunchmaster products and stuff. Check it out below. But first..... what is Crunchmaster?

Product information from Crunchmaster

At Crunchmaster, we’re committed to fusing the tradition of the East with the tempting taste sensations of the West to give you authentic snacks that not only taste great, but are better for you.

Using our exclusive, proprietary rice baking techniques, we craft our baked rice crackers in the "Usuyaki" style (that’s Japanese for thin and flat) tradition, using wholesome ingredients. The result? Great tasting crackers with an incredible crunch!
Crunchmaster is brought to you by your friends at TH Foods, Inc. For more information on our company, visit

Crunchmaster products are gluten free and Non-GMO Verified.
They recently sent me a box of the 7 Ancient Grains crackers. And I so love these crackers. They have just a hint of sea salt and the blended flavors of the 7 Grains is wonderful. You'll love sharing these with your friends and family. Grains: `Brown Rice, Sorghum, Quinoa, Sesame, Millet, Flax, and Amaranth.

Now about that nifty giveaway.....

Great Crunchmaster crackers to nibble on. A T-shirt to wear - "Hello Delicious." Coupons. A pen. 
BEGINS September 20
ENDS October 10 @ 12:01 a.m. ET.
 Open to USA addresses only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway 
DISCLOSURE: A complimentary sample box of crackers was provided to facilitate this review. Giveaway package was created and provided and shipped by Crunchmaster directly to the winner. No compensation was provided to me to review the product and opinions are just mine alone.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Monster Needs Your Vote by Paul Czajak & illustrated by Wendy Grieb

Hardcover ~ ISBN 9781938063633
Mighty Media Press
About the book: Election season is here and Monster is ready to vote! But why cast your ballot when you can run for president instead? With speeches, debates, and a soapbox or two, Monster’s newest tale is a campaign encouraging kids to take a stand and fight for what they believe in.

My thoughts: The opportunity presented during presidential election year affords elementary, middle and high school teachers a golden opportunity to teach the election process. Granted, the manner it is presented to each level and the manner of involvement of students will be necessarily varied. However, I have seen the creativity of teachers inspire students to get so much into the mood and spirit that halls, doors, and classrooms are literally covered with election promotional materials.  Are they actually voting on the leading real-life candidates that their moms and dads will vote on? Sometimes. However, the idea is to get them so involved in learning about the process that they are campaigning and voting. Perhaps on better libraries, shorter school days, or longer summer vacations, the idea is to teach them the electoral process, qualifications for being a candidate, and that every vote counts.
In Monster Needs Your Vote, we again have a delightful elementary picture book about “boy” and his side-kick friend, “Monster.” Monster isn’t scary. He is just Monster, boy’s friend.

It is election time and Monster decides to run. His platform is for longer summer vacation. Frankly, it doesn't carry much weight with the voters.

He and boy discuss matters an Monster learns about how he has to qualify to run for president, and Monster simply doesn’t qualify. He learns that even though he isn’t qualified to run, he is qualified to push for a platform and to vote.

“I’m confused with politics and what it’s all about.
No seems to like me, so I guess I’ll just drop out.”
Monster looked discouraged. He was ready to resign.
But he became inspired when he saw a CLOSING sign.
“The library is closing. That’s a crime that can’t take place!
To fail on education is a national disgrace!”

He gears up to get out the vote for better libraries and books. Monster learns that every vote counts and that being involved by helping to get the vote out is important.

Paul Czajak again has given the world a delightful book  in easy-to-read rhyming story form that is a real treat to read. Monster Needs Your Vote is again illustrated by Wendy Grieb in her delightful “monster” style with strong colors and vibrant characters.

A super book (a super series) to have in all types of libraries - home, school, and public.

DISCLOSURE: I was provided a complimentary copy by the publisher, Mighty Media Press, to facilitate this review. Opinions are mine alone. I was not compensated for this review. Pictures were provided to me by the publisher and used with their permission.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Being Creative on Demand (by Paul Czajak, author of the delightful "Monster Needs...." series)

NOTE: The following article is used with permission by the publisher. Originally published on "Writers' RumpusAuthors and Illustrators wild about kids' lit!" - CLICK HERE for original article.
by Paul Czajak

What happens when you, the type of writer who writes solely from inspiration, is asked by your publisher to write about a topic you never thought of? To create a story that didn’t come from deep inside your creative conscious? Well, unless you’re high on the latest mind-altering drug, you say “Thank you Sir (or in my case Ma’am)! May I have another!”

I have been lucky/cursed to have two such requests from my publisher. The most recent is a request for Monster needing a doctor or a check up. But the first request was one that would capitalize on the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Monster Needs Your Vote. (Like the 2016 campaign season, the book is launching well ahead of the 2016 election–next week, in fact.)

The reason I write lucky/cursed is because that’s the best way to describe how I felt. Lucky is self-explanatory; it’s much easier to sell a manuscript to a publisher when they ask you to write it. Cursed, because it means you have to write about something you didn’t initially want to write about, and that’s hard. When my publisher first asked me to write Monster Needs Your Vote, I thought, “This is crazy, please not politics, not for a picture book. What next, religion? How about Monster Needs Confession?” (By the way, that’s been written and trademarked–at least I SHOULD trademark it.) This would be the first story that I would have to write that I wasn’t inspired to write. Writing suddenly turned into that four-letter word that I was hoping to avoid…work. But I decided I wasn’t going to look at that way, instead I was going to look at as a challenge! You’re mine, politics! I shall OWN you! I shall blend your intricacies in meter and rhyme with the lightheartedness of a picture book. Okay maybe I didn’t say that, but I thought it. Yeah, I didn’t think it either, but back off, it’s my story!

Anyway, I sat and thought about what I wanted to write.
And I sat.
And I sat.
And I sat.

Then the inspiration hit me. Not the WHAT the story was going to be about, that was from the publisher. What came to me was the heart of the story, the WHY. Why was Monster getting involved in politics in the first place? That’s when it occurred to me that no matter where the idea initially comes from, the creative process is still the same. Inspiration is still an integral part of it all–it’s why they call it CREATIVE WRITING (note to self: trademark that). This project may not have started out as my idea but after running with it, it became one of my favorites. I loved coming up with different rhyming lines that used the political jargon that we hear during elections. Not all of them survived, like this one:

Cavalcades and big parades, Monster made the rounds
He spoke in every single state, not just the battlegrounds.

I had to kill a darling, but it was still fun to create. I grew as a writer and learned something of myself during this project: that as long as I am creating something, I will never consider it work.
Watch for Chat With Vera's review of Monster Needs Your Vote coming soon.

Global Handwashing Day October 15 - Support Global Handwashing Education

Spread the Word

Help spread the word about Global Handwashing Day on October 15th. Support Global Handwashing education in developing countries by logging in or sign up at Dial Rewards (CLICK HERE) and use the code "WASH9" 

Dial Brand will donate $1 for every code entered (up to $50,000) to support global handwashing education.

Let's Learn About the Lord's Prayer by Catherine DeVries [Review & Giveaway]

ISBN13: 9780781412698
About the book: In this first book of the HeartSmart series, preschoolers are invited on a playdate with Emma. Together they learn the Lord’s Prayer and practice “teaching” it to Emma’s favorite teddy bear.

Introducing HeartSmart, a Scripture memory series designed to create opportunities for children to fill their heart with God’s Word. HeartSmart combines key Scriptures with songs, giving parents a spiritual formation path for building a strong foundation of faith.

The entire Lord’s Prayer is included, along with a custom song (free download with access code).

Let's Learn About the Lord's Prayer features artwork from up-and-coming artist Ryan Jackson.

My thoughts: Teachable moments are so important! Scheduled opportunities like devotional time or storytime are important! But taking the opportunity to weave spiritual instruction into the web and flow of daily life is taking advantage of each and every teachable moment. So it seems that in Catherine DeVries' book The Lord's Prayer, little Emma has learned a bit about praying the Lord's Prayer and is sharing it with her friend who is visiting.  This conveys to me that Emma has been taught "The Lord's Prayer," and that she is sharing it with her friend.

Emma is abounding in joy and happiness and that is evident in her eyes and spontaneous action of showing her friend her room and her favorite teddy bear. Then it is time to eat and Emma prays. She also talks about learning "The Lord's Prayer." She then begins to explain the prayer and quote lines of the prayer.

You can't go wrong anytime you teach a child about God and his word and in "The Lord's Prayer" we learn so much about thankfulness to God and forgiveness from God and of others.

The concept is good, and I won't say I don't like it because I believe there is definite benefit to the book. However, I simply think that Emma is a bit "over-the-top." The illustrations are bold and have a "roughness" about them which is, well, different.

BEGINS 9/18/15 EDT
ENDS 9/29/15 @ 12:01 A.M. EDT
Open to US addresses ONLY
a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the author: Catherine DeVries has written twenty books for children, including the bestselling The Adventure Bible Storybook. As associate publisher of Children's Resources at David C Cook, she leads product development for The Action Bible collection, which has sold over a million copies. Catherine lives with her husband, their three children, and their big furry dog in the Colorado forest.

DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy from Litfuse Publicity Group to facilitate this review. Opinions are my own. I was not compensated for this review.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Thankful by Eileen Spinelli & illustrated by Archie Preston

About the book:
Thankful – Like the gardener, thankful for every green sprout, and the fireman for putting the fire out.  There are everyday blessings , you don’t need to look far, to know at a glance how special you are.  Beloved children’s author Eileen Spinelli and illustrator Archie Preston inspire children of all ages with Thankful a whimsical picture book that celebrates the everyday blessings we find in our lives.

My thoughts:  It behooves parents to instill in their children at a very young age the grace of being thankful. Not just thankful for their food by saying a blessing, or grace, at mealtime; but by being thankful for the enormous blessings as well as the seemingly trite or mundane. Eileen Spinelli has with limited rhyming text taken the child through their world and shown how to be thankful.

"The poet is thankful for words that rhyme.
The children for morning story time.
The artist is thankful for color and light.
The clown, for her costume silly and bright."
Reading at Vera's Picture of Book Page©
The simple illustrations in soft tones and tiny images are light, airy, and fun. As ways to be thankful are being read to the young child, it will generate their lively imagination to find and express other things and blessings for which they can be thankful.  Hey! Don't forget to be thankful for the doorknobs!

So as you step outside today, imagine a little child holding your hand and you hear the birds singing. Speak a word of thankfulness for the lovely bird-song - and you'll instill a heart of thankfulness in the child.

Thankful is a lovely book to grace the home, school, church, or public library.

DISCLOSURE: A complimentary copy was provided by the BookLook Blogger Review Program on behalf of Zondervan to facilitate this review. Opinions as those of the reviewer. No compensation was received for this review.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund [Review & Giveaway]

About the book: She was a nun of noble birth. He, a heretic, a reformer…an outlaw of the Holy Roman Empire.

In the 16th century, nun Katharina von Bora’s fate fell no further than the Abbey. Until she read the writings of Martin Luther.

His sweeping Catholic church reformation—condemning a cloistered life and promoting the goodness of marriage—awakened her desire for everything she’d been forbidden. Including Martin Luther himself.

Despite the fact that the attraction and tension between them is undeniable, Luther holds fast to his convictions and remains isolated, refusing to risk anyone’s life but his own. And Katharina longs for love, but is strong-willed. She clings proudly to her class distinction, pining for nobility over the heart of a reformer. They couldn’t be more different.

But as the world comes tumbling down around them, and with Luther’s threatened life a constant strain, these unlikely allies forge an unexpected bond of understanding, support and love.

Together, they will alter the religious landscape forever. - See more - CLICK HERE

My thoughts: Anyone who has read about or studied church history and the conflict between the established Catholic church and the emerging reformation movement realizes that this was a period of time fraught with peril to individuals on both sides. In Germany when Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the door (1521 AD) the fires of revolution and uprising were lit. Luther's writings of pamphlets were secretly spread against edits of the Pope, the Emperor, and the ruling Princes.

Inside the monasteries and nunneries these writings were secretly read and kept hidden. To read or to possess such was cause for terrifyingly cruel punishments.

It is upon this scene that the story of Luther and Katharina opens. Katharina has led a cloistered life since being abandoned by her nobility family and left in the nunnery at the tender age of five. She has know nothing but peace,solitude, worship, prayer. She, being from the nobility, has received kindly treatment in the nunnery. However, rumors abound that this is not the case with the other nuns. As the book opens, 24 year old Katharina is ready to leap from the second story window under cloak of darkness with seven other nuns to escape and to follow the teachings of Martin Luther.

The common populace and the ruling class has little respect for nuns seeing them as loose women kept cloistered for the pleasure of the priests and monks. So this "reputation" follows these virtuous women as they escaped.

From the moment Luther and Katharina meet, they match wits and arguments. He calls her a hissing Katz, and she calls him Herr Doctor.

I found it interesting that as Katharina begins to live in the "world" she still clings to learned ways to practice her beliefs. Her prayers must still be those she learned in her cloistered life because she fears God will not want her to pray her heart's needs in her own words. Her clothes are fitted and she is accustomed to the loose nun's habit that completely covers her. She experiences emotions strange and bewildering in this new world in which she dwells.

I think that the author, Jody Hedlund, has done a beautiful work in bringing life to Luther and Katharina basing her characterization on actual information from her research. She has fleshed out the story with conversations and happenings that are fictional from her own imagination. However, Hedlund has written with great respect for the period of history, the trials and tribulations that the reformers endured, and the people themselves. She has presented history in its beauty as well as in its terrifying ugliness and brutality.

I heartily recommend this well written book to Chat With Vera readers. I hasten to caution against teen readers because of the customs of marriage during that period, the sweetly romantic scenes between Luther and Katharina, as well as the bawdy insinuations of "revered" individuals. This is Christian historical fiction with realism. It is not actually lewd or vulgar. It is simply not a book I would hand teens.

Timeline of Reformation: (I copied the following information from the Internet and I apologize because I can't find the source now. Just to let it be know, that I would give credit to compiler if I could again find it.) 

1517Pope Leo X sell indulgences to rebuild church in Rome
Martin Luther posts 95 theses on door of castle church in Wittenberg
Pope Leo excommunicates Martin Luther
1521Martin Luther guilty of heresy by German Diet of Worms
1521Ignatius Loyola gives up life as a noble to serve god and Catholic Church
1524Lutheran Church formed in northern Germany
1531Ulrich Zwungli leader of Protestant movement in Switzerland
Killed in battle with Catholic forces
1534Parliament passes law King is head of Church of England
1534French King Francis I forbids Huguenots to worship freely.
1540Ignatius Loyola founds Society of Jesus; Black robes simple life
1553King Edward VI of England dies
Mary becomes Queen of England
Mary accepts Pope as head of Church of England.
1555Peace of Augsburg Catholic and Protestant Churches in Germany
Begins September 15 & ENDS October 8 @ 12:01 a.m. ET. 
Open for addresses in USA
a Rafflecopter giveaway
More about the author - Jody Hedlund visit her website at: Or see her author page at the publisher’s website:
DISCLOSURE: I was provided a complimentary copy to facilitate this review. Opinions are mine alone. I receive no compensation for this review.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Neocell Collagen +C Liposome Serum, Neocell Alpha Cell Exfoliator-Step II, & Neocell Refreshing Herbal Mist [Review & Giveaway]

I am so delighted to have had the opportunity to try three more of Neocell's wonderful products. Previously I shared the Biotin Bursts Chews and Beauty Infusion products and how I loved them. I've since purchased Biotin Bursts locally and have ordered more Biotin Bursts and the Chocolate Mint Beauty Bursts Chews.

Today we're looking at three topical products that aid in the care and restoration of your skin.

Neocell, Collagen+C Liposome Serum

I found that the Collagen +C Liposome Serum is much like other brands of serum in the way it is applied and how it feels on the skin. I applied the serum to my cleansed skin and then allowed it to dry. Prior to applying the serum I used the Alpha Cell Exfoliator (see below) - but I only use this once every day or so. After applying the serum, I used moisturizer (day type or night type depending on time of day). Then make up for the day was applied.

I like the soft, tightened feel this gives my skin without feeling taunt, and love the antioxidant protective qualities it provides. I can recommend this for my readers.

Product Description (provided by Neocell)

  • Time Release Serum with Vitamin C & E Complex
  • Potent Antioxidant
  • Protects & Rejuvenates
  • Vitamin C & Vitamin E
  • Paraben Free
Collagen+C Liposome Serum is made using time-release micro-capsules that penetrate the skin to deliver collagen stimulating ingredients and potent antioxidant where the skin needs them most. Fat-soluble Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and phospho-lipids containing essential fatty acids to enhance the skin's firmness, elasticity, and moisture.
Suggested Use: Once or twice daily, gently smooth a few drops on clean skin over face and neck.

Neocell, Alpha Cell Exfoliator, Step ll

I have used a variety of "toners" in the past and essentially just gave up on them as being unnecessary, drying, and ineffective. Even the beauty industry - at least for awhile - advised that they were not good products. However, this Alpha Cell Exfoliator product is totally different and I love it. After cleansing the face, I simply use a little on a cotton ball and rub it all over my face and neck. NOTE: I am very careful to avoid the eye area. This product is not for use around the eyes.

I like that it removes the last vestiges of makeup or other products. It also leaves a marvelous feeling to the skin. Actually, I have noticed that it leaves a bit of a residue that is obviously the ingredients at work. After my face dries, I apply the Neocell Collagen +C Lipsome Serum, etc. (see above)

I can encourage my readers to use this product.

Product Description (provided by Neocell)Step II - Cell Exfoliator Natural fruit acid & green tea extracts. Improve skin's texture. Dissolves dead cells on the surface. Reveals fresh, radiant-looking skin. A clear liquid exfoliator which dissolves dead cells on skin's surface. Reveals fresh, younger looking skin, smoothens fine lines, evens skin tone and revives skin's youthful radiance. Made of natural fruit acid extracts and green tea. Alpha Cell Exfoliator Benefits: Smoothens coarse skin and enlarged pores. Softens fine aging lines. Penetrates quickly.

Suggested Use: Use cotton ball, apply moderate amount over clean, dry skin. Do not apply directly around eyes.
Ingredients include (partial list): Purified water, glycolic acid, kola extract, matte extract, .....

Neocell, Refreshing Herbal Mist

Sometimes we just fall in love with a product and want to spread that love around a bit. With the Refreshing Herbal Mist I did just that. I have already bought two more to share with my daughters. 

I just love the way I can pick this up, take off my glasses, close my eyes and spray (or mist) away. Doesn't mess up the hair or makeup. 

Goes on any time, any where. And it is so much better than any of this type of misting product I have tried in the past. It leaves a glow to the skin and a freshness that is wonderful.

Again, a product I can highly recommend to my readers.

Product Description (provided by Neocell)

  • On-The-Go Moisture Complex
  • Refreshing Hydration
  • Skin Balancing Herbs
  • Collagen & Vitamins
  • Paraben Free
  • Nutrients You Can Trust
Collagen Herbal Mist is a refreshing cool mist that leaves a layer of moisturizing collagen, essential vitamins, balancing herbs, free radical scavengers, and soothing aloe vera on skin and hair to keep them hydrate and revitalized. Oil free, lanolin free, no artificial fragrance.
Suggested Use - Close eyes, press pump firmly to spray over skin or hair. Let dry. May be worn over makeup and moisturizer, in the office, sun, or anywhere dryness is a problem.
GIVEAWAY - 1 Winner
NeoCell Collagen +C Liposome Serum
NeoCell Alpha Cell Exfoliator-Step II
Neocell Refreshing Herbal Mist
Begins September 14 & ENDS October 6
@ 12:01 a.m. ET. 
Open to USA addresses only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
DISCLOSURE: I received these products from Neocell to facilitate this review. I received no compensation. Opinions are my own. Should you use the links provided and purchase a product, I may receive a small percentage commission.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate [Review & Giveaway]

ISBN: 9781561458257
My thoughts: It is always a joy and pleasure for me to learn a bit of the history of my home state - North Carolina. As with most states in the United States, we have a history of slavery of people - Africans, Irish, and others. Some were enslaved unwillingly as purchased and some willingly as indentured. Some of this history is heart-rending and terrifyingly sad. Some of it held hope, albeit in small measure, to those enslaved. This story is about one such enslaved individual in North Carolina - an African who was a "bought slave." It took place in Chatham Country which is next to Orange County where I lived for many years.

George Moses Horton hungered for knowledge and the ability to read and write. He had a head full of words roaming around forming stories and poems but no way to write them. Finally, he had an opportunity. Even though not freed and not able to purchase his freedom, he was allowed to go Chapel Hill - the home of the University of North Carolina, where he spoke poems to the young students for their sweethearts. Eventually he was taught to write his poems by one of the citizens of Chapel Hill.
George listening to others learn their ABCs
Though a Southern state, North Carolina was in many respects progressive in the concept that the slave, the African, could and should receive an education. Still flawed in action and concept, there were areas of North Carolina where free men of color lived, worked, and progressed. George Moses Horton was the first African-American to be published in America.

It is a joy to read of George Moses Horton's journey into the world of literacy and the happiness that reading brought to him.
Some of his poems were anti-slavery or about
the conditions they lived and worked under
The author, Don Tate, has written a super picture book biography for young children and young readers. This gives the opportunity to garner a bit of this period of history in our country and the resiliency of the enslaved peoples. I believe the author has written this story with pride of race for himself and pride of accomplishment for George Moses Horton.

The illustrations are done in an exaggerated style with softened yellows, greens, and browns. Horton's poems are displayed as background to the pictures on the two page spreads. Illustrations depict conditions and life as a slave prior to and during the Civil War. The text is advanced somewhat and may invoke further discussion and study on the part of young readers. This picture-book biography will fit well into history lessons of the period or for simply pleasure reading.

About the book: Born a slave, George Moses Horton taught himself to read, memorizing the poems he composed until he later learned to write. Hand-lettered excerpts of Horton’s writing amplify his successes and setbacks as he gains a reputation as a poet among students at the University of North Carolina, to whom he sold produce. Horton’s poems drew additional attention and were published (“Needless to say, it was a dangerous time for Horton, whose poems often protested slavery,” Tate writes in an afterword), but freedom remained elusive until the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, when Horton was 66 years old. Tate’s mixed-media illustrations glow with bright greens and yellows, radiating a warmth, hope, and promise that echo this stirring biography’s closing message: “Words loosened the chains of bondage long before his last day as a slave.” Ages 6–10. Agent: Caryn Wiseman, Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
Begins September 13 & ENDS October 5 @ 12:01 a.m. ET. 
 Open for addresses in USA
If you have won this book from our sponsor, you are not eligible to win. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification. 
a Rafflecopter giveaway
About the author: Don Tate is the illustrator of numerous critically acclaimed books for children. In 2013, he earned an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Award for his first picture book text, It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw. You can visit Don Tate’s website here.

DISCLOSURE: I was provided a complimentary copy by Peachtree Publishing to facilitate this review. Opinions are my own alone. I was not compensated for the review. The giveaway copy is provided by the publisher and will be sent directly to the winner.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Ageless Derma Retinol and Vit K Eye Cream

Ageless Derma Retinol and Vit K Eye Cream is a soft, yellow cream dispensed via an attractive pump bottle that goes on smoothly and easily. It feels good as I apply it to the area under and around my eyes. It did not irritate the skin nor feel irritating.

I have "allergy eyes" (or so I call them) and they tend to be puffy and have dark circles simply because of allergies, and sometimes the problem is more prevalent than others. It seems to me that the Ageless derma Retinol and Vit K Eye Cream has helped the appearance of my dark circles. It has not absolutely rid me of them, but I tend to see some improvement. I have been using it on the upper and lower lids twice daily. When viewing the video below, I see that the cream is only being applied to the area under the eye and the corner and then a tad around the eye brow (brow ridge), but not the upper lid. That is probably best.

When I do not use an eye cream or an eye get, my eyes feel drawn and tired. Using this lovely eye cream certainly does feel good on the skin around my eyes. 

It is important when caring for one's facial skin that the eye area have particular attention. I have found that warm, wet compresses held on my eyes once or twice a day help tremendously in the way my eyes feel. Gently washing the eye lids is also important. Lastly, I apply the eye cream to lock in moisture and keep the skin soft. With this Ageless Derma Eye Cream packed with Retinol, Vitamins K, A, C & E, I feel I am nurturing this tender area.

Ageless Derma is offering 20% off and free shipping on your domestic orders. CLICK HERE to order.

Product Description (from Ageless Derma) - 

Ageless Derma Eye Cream is a powerful new anti-aging treatment that helps to prevent and reverse the signs of aging. Its unique formula combines Retinol, the purest form of Vitamin A, with Vitamins C, E and K to soften the appearance of dark circles, smooth fine lines and wrinkles and improve skin texture around the delicate eye area. 
Dark circles are bruises that appear when the delicate capillaries under the eyes get damaged. Vitamin K is excellent at healing broken capillaries, getting straight to the source of dark circles, and also adds volume to the skin to add further protection. Vitamin C, meanwhile, strengthens the walls of blood vessels, making them less visible and less likely to break in the future, while Vitamin A, and particularly the dose provided by Retinol, effectively reduces fine lines and wrinkles.
In order to test the effectiveness of cream containing 2% vitamin K and 0.1% retinol, vitamin E and vitamin C, the cream was given to 57 Japanese adult volunteers who suffered from moderate or severe dark circles and wrinkles around their eyes. To prove the cream’s effect for a wide range of users, researchers ensured that both men and women were in the sample of volunteers, with ages ranging from 22 to 57 years old. These volunteers applied the eye cream to their lower eyelids twice a day for 8 weeks. Using before and after photographs taken at 0, 4, and 8 weeks, the volunteers, and a physician, evaluated the benefit of the treatment. 
After 8 weeks of use,  81% of participants said that the cream had been effective, making a visible difference to the bruises and wrinkles around their eyes. While using this cream for a relatively short period, many volunteers found that their dark under eye circles disappeared entirely, and others found that their visibility decreased. Physicians involved in the study therefore declared  the Cream to be moderately effective at treating dark circles, even after a short period of use.   
We delight to present Ageless Derma Anti Aging Eye Cream as a revolutionary new eye treatment that can reduce and even eradicate dark circles, puffy eyes and wrinkles. The all natural formula is proven to gently and effectively fight the signs of aging around the eyes by repairing damage found in the skin itself.
DISCLOSURE: I was provided a complimentary product to facilitate this review. Opinions expressed are my own. I was not compensated for this review. I may received a percentage of purchases made if included links are utilize to access website.