Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Scholastic Press (February 24, 2015) 592 pages


Music, magic, and a real-life miracle meld in this genre-defying masterpiece from storytelling maestro Pam Muñoz Ryan.

Lost and alone a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.

Richly imagined and masterfully crafted, ECHO pushes the boundaries of genre and form, and shows us what is possible in how we tell stories. The result is an impassioned, uplifting, and virtuosic tour de force that will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Thoughts:

This is a beautiful book, but I suspect it will be more of a hit with parents, as opposed to its target age group. It feels more like a "required reading" sort of book. I was under the impression that there would be more of a fantasy focus within the story, but the fantasy element ended up being *very* mild. There was a bit of fantasy at the beginning and a bit at the ending, but this was really more of a historical novel, with a strong focus on music. More specifically in the music realm was the focus on a particular harmonica that passes into the hands of different children.

Echo follows the lives of 7 people in various decades, along with their families. The story starts out with young Otto, as he meets 3 sisters, Eins, Zwei, and Drei, and learns their fairy tale story. This is the beginning of the harmonica's journey. Along the way, we meet Friedrich in 1933 Germany, as he struggles with the world Hitler is trying to create, Mike in 1935 Pennsylvania, as he fights to keep him and his brother, Frankie , together, and Ivy Maria in 1942 California, as she struggles with the effects of the war and the prejudices towards the Japanese and Mexican Americans.

Echo is broken up into parts. The beginning is where Otto and the sisters are introduced, but they don't get a large part of the book. Part one is given to Friedrich, part two is given to Mike, part three is given to Maria, and part four ties up all the loose strings in 1951 New York. Each child's story is not given an ending until part four. That means it's almost like starting a whole new book before getting to have an ending for the first one. I appreciate the way the book was done, and it IS beautifully done, but I can easily see this being a frustrating and difficult book for younger readers. At almost 600 pages, even if it does have large print, and lots of extra space on each page, it's a chunkster for its target age group.

There is a great deal of educational opportunity within this book, though, and I highly recommend it. It gives us a look at the prejudices towards various races and religions throughout time and in different parts of the world. It also gives us a little education in music, and the journey it has made. There are song lyrics, along with the accompanying music notes for various songs. It's a great way to create a greater appreciation for music, and teach the healing and encouragement it provides.

*I was provided an ARC, in exchange for my honest opinion.

Purchase Link:


Monday, February 23, 2015

Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale

Bloomsbury USA Childrens (February 24, 2015) 336 pages


After a year at the king's palace, Miri has learned all about being a proper princess. But the tables turn when the student must become the teacher!

Instead of returning to her beloved Mount Eskel, Miri is ordered to journey to a distant swamp and start a princess academy for three sisters, cousins of the royal family. Unfortunately, Astrid, Felissa, and Sus are more interested in hunting and fishing than becoming princesses.

As Miri spends more time with the sisters, she realizes the king and queen's interest in them hides a long-buried secret. She must rely on her own strength and intelligence to unravel the mystery, protect the girls, complete her assignment, and finally make her way home.

Fans of Shannon Hale won't want to miss this gorgeously woven return to this best-selling, Newbery Honor-winning series.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed The Princess Academy a few years back. I recently attempted The Stone Palace, but ended up setting it aside about a third of the way through due to lack of connection and interest. I went into this one a little guarded, but it has ended up being my favorite of the three books!

In this book, Miri meets lots of new people in a swamp village, making both friends and enemies. Even though she has been looking forward to going home to her family, she takes on the challenge of tutoring a set of sisters, far from her home, and far from Peder. Miri faces a great deal of challenges and battles during her journey.

Some of the connections made, especially when pulled from the other books, really pulled on my heartstrings. Since my husband was sitting beside me as I read, I tried hard to curb the tears, but it was hard! ;) This is a super sweet book, but it's also full of action and politics and war, and even heartache. Within its pages are so many wonderful lessons for little girls. The value of education and reading and learning are constantly brought to attention. Any book that makes me want to pick up a history book and LEARN after reading it is a treasure, in my opinion. This one does just that!

Since swamp life is through a good portion of the book, there were some pretty gross "gag-worthy" moments. At one point, one of the girls suck the roasted eyeballs out of an animal(fish or rat...I can't remember now). I had to put the book down to get the vision out of my mind before continuing.

Miri grows, both in age and maturity, throughout the 3 books, so the romantic aspect also grows a little more with each edition. Thoughts of marriage and love grow more abundant, but it still takes a backseat to the rest of the story.

I've now read several of Hale's books. Her fantasy books, like this one, have such a mild fantasy element to them, I almost hate to label them so. This series IS fantasy, though mild.

Overall, this is a wonderful little series, I can highly recommend it for young girls!

*I was provided an ARC, in exchange for my honest opinion.


Purchase Links:

Princess Academy

Princess Academy: Palace of Stone

Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters



Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Ten Speed Press (October 14, 2014)


This #1 New York Times best-selling guide to decluttering your home from Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes readers step-by-step through her revolutionary KonMari Method for simplifying, organizing, and storing.

Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.


My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Thoughts:

My family has been on a journey of surrounding ourselves with only things that serve a purpose or bring us joy, and ditching the rest. I've read a lot of books on minimalism! I reach for them for extra inspiration and to remind myself why this journey is important to me. Thousands of items have left our home(much more to go, though!), and every time I see a space cleared, I feel lighter. (I won't leave the impression that we don't bring things back in, because we do. I get to review products, and we have fun with this. We just try to remove things as other items come into our home. Also, don't imagine my house neat and tidy yet, because it's not, though I have hopes for soon.) This book left me a little concerned, though. The author shares stories from her childhood and up, and I just felt like there was some severe OCD issues, which I've never felt about minimalism authors before. But, hey, the author has turned it into a very successful business and a bestseller, so what do I know?!

This book has some wonderful ideas on both minimalism and "cleaning" methods, like how to fold socks, not how to clean a toilet. I left the book with extra inspiration and some ideas I want to try. The author makes it clear that this is an all or nothing method, but I'm not going to think of it that way, or it would be a "nothing" for me. I think this book will be best for single folks. There's a couple of mentions of children, but really, there's not much advice specific to children. You won't find any advice on toys or schooling, or anything like that. (I just began reading Joshua Becker's Clutterfree with Kids, which I assume is more specific to the children realm of minimalism. I'll try to let y'all know my thoughts when I finish, but I'm liking it so far. ) The author recommends you do an "all at once" decluttering. That sounds wonderful, and I have no doubt that's the way to go, but I have 3 little ones that I take care of and teach, and there's not the time to devote to an "all at once" cleaning. There's just a definite vibe that this book is meant more for single folks.

This author goes into more detail than most minimalism authors about certain areas that are difficult for people to part with, like books. I've parted with hundreds of books, maybe even more than a thousand at this point in the journey, so I appreciated the extra lesson in clearing books I don't absolutely love. Even so, I can't imagine not having lots of books(that we love and read!) always surrounding us. If you ever visit my home, books will be the thing that would make one question my minimalism efforts. ;)

There's also sections that I skipped, like how to minimalize Buddhist charms and shrines and all. I'm a Christian, so of course, those parts didn't apply to me, or interest me. I thought some parts of the book were a little corny. She believes that we should treat our objects like people. When you get home, greet your house. When taking off your shoes, thank them for their service. When you empty out your purse(because it has worked hard and deserves the rest), thank it for the good job it did today. Any out of season clothes should be stored in drawers, and they should be opened occasionally, so your clothes can get a little air and breath. You should also rub your hands across them, so they know they're loved, and that they will be back in use soon. See? A bit corny. ((That said, since childhood, I've felt to need for stuffed animals to look comfortable(which just can't happen in the bottom of the toy box). I've always struggled with stuffed animals being a little bit real. Maybe that's a bit hypocritical of me! ;))) I DO think we need to appreciate our items more. I would like to get in the habit of thanking God for blessing me with shoes when I take them off, or for the coat that kept me warm. I don't think we appreciate what we have enough in our spoiled country! I DID benefit from this book, though, despite my concerns!

Again, there's some really good advice in here, and plenty of things I hadn't read about before, like storing everything vertical, even carrots in the fridge, and storing purses inside of another purse. Especially if you're single, this is a beneficial read, if you don't mind skipping over the different religious customs.

As a side note, so far, my all time favorite minimalism author is Lorilee Lippincott. I've read two of her books, Simple Living - 30 days to less stuff and more life and The Simple Living Handbook: Discover the Joy of a De-Cluttered Life. I love her non-judgmental attitude, which appears to be super hard in the world of minimalism. If you want a jumpstart on minimalism, I highly recommend her books!

Also, to show you that I DID gain encouragement from this book, I spent the next day decluttering. I filled 5 big bags with garbage, along with 4 small bags. I also filled several bags and boxes for donation. Not too bad, considering I was also taking care of 3 little ones, and there's already been many rounds of decluttering! ;)

*I was provided a review copy, in exchange for my honest opinion.


Purchase Link:

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing


Thaw by E. Kaiser Writes (Book Series Spotlight)


About the Author:

E. Kaiser Writes credits her nearly nomadic childhood for the vast reach of her fictional worlds; she has lived (and gotten to known the locals) in the Rocky Mtns, the Smoky Mtns, the plains, the deep forest, the searing Texas summer and frozen Minnesota north.

She wears many hats: writer and editor of ad copy, web copy, office correspondence & fiction; a cowgirl, animal trainer, seamstress, jeweler, artist and... authoress!

Connect with E. Kaiser:


Author Blog

Facebook Author Page





About the Books:

Thaw: Winter's Child
A barren king and queen pray for a child, and when in their loneliness, they make one out of snow, their prayers are answered in a special, and unusual way.

Sometimes, when we get what we wish for, we don't know what to do with it.

Combining elements from the Snow Maiden, Schneekind, Snegurochka tales with those of the Snow Queen; Winter's Child introduces a new series: THAW.

Excerpt From Winter's Child:

Then her hands danced outward, playing faster than an orchestra leader’s baton. A row of swans took position along the rail, snowy bodies, glistening wings. Her eyes glowed as she sent them off, and they fell into perfect formation, dipping and rising at her command.

This was fun.

No one could be lonesome while doing this.

She brought the swans back, and they lined up perfectly on the rail, their snowy faces expressionless, their glassy beaks soundless. […]

She flicked her fingers again and a sleigh appeared, formed of knitted snowflakes. She traced a finger to each swan and snowy filaments formed a harness on each fowl. The swans rearranged themselves to accommodate this new strategy, and then she lifted them off and into the air again.

They rose upward with the beat of icy wings, and the snowflake sleigh swooped up close on their tails. It sailed through the sky like a cloud, following exactly where the swans dipped and dived to.


Thaw: Winter Queen

A slightly pampered girl allows her avoidance behavior to isolate her from the world... and it's only when she takes the final step that she realizes the wall she's built in the name of safety is also the one that will hold her prisoner forever... unless she discovers how to destroy it.

The only one who can break a neurosis... is the one who has it.

Combining elements from the Snow Maiden, Schneekind, Snegurochka tales with those of the Snow Queen; Winter Queen continues a new series: THAW.


Thaw: Prince of Demargen

The whole world knows his guilt, and is absolutely correct about it, but how far can a man go to regain respect so swiftly lost?

Or is an honorable death the best a fallen star can hope for?

The only person who can help him... is the one he most deeply wronged.

Prince of Demargen is third in a new series: THAW.


Purchase Links:

Thaw: Winter's Child

Thaw: Winter Queen

Thaw: Prince of Demargen


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Enter the Heart of Adventure Sweepstakes!

Enter the HEART OF ADVENTURE Sweepstakes from Author Dani Pettrey!

About the Giveaway:

In SABOTAGED, the fifth and final book of author Dani Pettrey’s award-winning Alaskan Courage series, Kirra Jacobs and Reef McKenna experience the high stakes of Iditarod search-and-rescue when Kirra’s uncle, a musher in the race, goes missing.

Kirra and Reef put aside their differences to search for him, but what they discover is harrowing: Frank’s daughter Meg has been kidnapped, and Frank must do the kidnapper’s bidding or Meg will die.

Soon Kirra, Reef, and the entire McKenna family are thrown into a race to stop a shadowy villain who is not only threatening a girl’s life, but appears willing to unleash one of the largest disasters Alaska has ever seen.

To celebrate their epic race, Dani and Bethany House Publishers are pleased to present the HEART OF ADVENTURE SWEEPSTAKES, and your chance to win one of three marvelous prizes, all closely connected to the story.


Giveaway Details:

This giveaway starts February 2, 2015 and ends February 22, 2015 @ 11:59 pm (PST).

Entry is open to US residents only, age 18 and over. Winners will be selected Monday, February 23, 2015, and announced at DaniPettrey.com.


About the Prizes:



During their cross-country hunt for answers, Kirra and Reef stop to rest at a gorgeous mountain lodge in Denali that holds special memories for Reef. This prize offers you a chance to build your own special memories, with a luxurious lodge getaway for two.

Our Grand Prize winner will receive: A $250 gift certificate to Hotels.com, good for reservations at lodges and hotels across the Continental US, Alaska, Hawaii, and numerous International locations



In the Alaskan Courage series, Kirra is the proud owner of Nanook Haven, a rescue shelter for sled dogs. In real life, animals need rescue as well, and this prize will allow you to give a special gift to support an organization like Kirra’s.

Our Second Prize winner will receive: A $150 donation in your name, to the animal rescue, shelter, or veterinarian of your choice



In SABOTAGED, Kirra and Reef take shelter in a snow cave while hiding from a man determined to put them on ice– permanently! Luckily, Kirra has a survival kit, to help them make it through the sub-zero temperatures.
If you prefer a little more romance and a little less suspense in your survival kit, this is the prize for you.

Our Third Prize winner will receive: A $100 value sweetheart survival pack. This gift basket includes double chocolate raspberry cake, smoked salmon, brie cheese and crackers, and a wide variety of gourmet snacks.


How to Enter:

Go to http://www.danipettrey.com/heart-of-adventure-sweepstakes/ and complete the entry box, anytime between February 2 – 22, 2015.


Good Luck! :D


Monday, February 16, 2015

Mothering from Scratch by Melinda Means and Kathy Helgemo(With Giveaway!!!)

Bethany House Publishers (January 20, 2015) 208 pages


Find Your Own Mothering Style

Trying to follow someone else's rules for mothering can take the joy out of being a parent. But Mothering From Scratch shows you how to develop your own style that helps you be the best mom for your kids.

Full of solid biblical truth, this book will help you
· explore your personality and examine your strengths and weaknesses in order to find what works for you
· tap into the resources surrounding you and get mentoring and support from other moms
· push past the fear of change or doing it wrong and allow room for grace in your mothering

Melinda Means and Kathy Helgemo provide a flexible, customizable approach to help you discover your optimal parenting style.

My Thoughts:

I skimmed this book. I didn't read it word for word, though I did gain lots of encouragement from it. I just want to make sure I state that right up front.

First, I'll mention the format of this book. It wasn't my favorite. I'll be the first to admit that the older I get, the more picky I become concerning font size and formats. It's a reason I try to convince myself that e-books are my friend more that paper copies these days, but I so love the feel and the smell of "real" books(most of them, anyway). It's a hard lesson to fully accept for myself. This particular book has small print, and it's just a bit chaotic, in general. There seems to be so much information, that my eyes are darting back and forth to take it all in. Plus, with this being co-authored, there is more than one person talking, so it goes back and forth in that sense, too.

Other than that, I found this to be an encouraging read. I like being encouraged as a mother. With so many judgments being doled out, from the parenting "expert" that doesn't have children yet(I'll admit I was one, once upon a time!), to the mom who thinks her parenting method is THE best, to the mom that has forgot just how hard it was to parent back in the day, parenting is tough. There's not the help and encouragement that it seems there once was any more.

This book gives examples and encouragement to rely on God, and not compete or try to measure up to what other moms are doing or what they think is best. God has given us all a set of commands within the Bible, and no matter what anybody says God "told" them, He doesn't make exceptions. If a "rule" applies to one person, it applies to the next one just as much. That said, God has given us all different talents. He never said that every mother had to be crafty. He's blessed some moms with the desire to be crafty, but others, like me, not so much. That doesn't make me any less of a mother. There's a little story about the "craft-less guilt" in this book, and I enjoyed it. Really, there's lots of encouraging stories about the authors and the parenting lessons they've learned.

From the encouragement and lessons I gained from this book(even if skimmed), I feel confidant recommending it to you, too.

*I was provided a review copy, in exchange for my honest opinion.


Purchase Link:

Mothering From Scratch: Finding the Best Parenting Style for You and Your Family



I'd like to give my copy to one of you, as long as you realize that I have children and a couple of pages are bent a bit. I might have dog eared one page, before I remembered I wanted to pass it on to someone else, too. :O (It's still a perfectly lovely copy, though!) ;)

If you'd like a bit of mommy encouragement, or know someone who could use it, just leave me a comment(with a way to contact you should you win).

Feel free to share this giveaway! Let me know you did, and I'll give you an extra entry.

-US only.
-Must be 13 or older
-Ends February 23rd, 2015

Good Luck!