Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Bride of a Distant Ilse by Sandra Byrd


Miss Annabel Ashton is a teacher at the Rogers School for Young Ladies in Winchester when she takes a brief visit to her family home, Highcliffe Hall at Milford-on-Sea. She believes her stay will be short but soon learns that she will not be returning to the safety of the school. Instead, she remains at Highcliffe, at the mercy of her cousin, Edward Everedge.

Annabel protests, but as the illegitimate daughter of a woman who died in an insane asylum, she has little say. Edward is running out of money and puts the house up for sale to avoid financial ruin. He insists that Annabel marry, promising her to a sinister, frightening man. But as the house gets packed for sale, it begins to reveal disquieting secrets. Jewelry, artifacts, and portraits mysteriously appear, suggesting that Annabel may be the true heir of Highcliffe.

She has only a few months to prove her legitimacy, perhaps with assistance from the handsome but troubled Maltese Captain Dell’Acqua. But does he have Annabel’s best interests at heart?

And then, a final, most ominous barrier to both her inheritance and her existence appears: a situation neither she nor anyone else could have expected. Will Annabel regain her life and property—and trust her heart—before it’s too late?

My Thoughts:

I always enjoy books by Sandra Byrd, but her "Daughters of Hampshire" series has taken my love of them to a whole new level. The first book in this series, Mist of Midnight, was one of my favorite reads of 2015(though I forgot to put it on the official list...that's what I get for not keeping up with my reading like I should). It's on my reread list, and I'm greatly looking forward to the revisit for many reasons. I have no doubt that Bride of a Distant Ilse will also be on my favorites list this year, and any year, for that matter. I loved every single minute of reading it!

In Bride of a Distant Ilse, we get somewhat of a Cinderella tale. Annabel Ashton is considered the illegitimate daughter of a woman who died within an insane asylum. She depends completely on her cousin, Edward, and his wife, Clementine. When their money starts running out, Annabel's situation gets more and more desperate. When strange objects start appearing, things get more and more mysterious.

I have to mention the romance. It was done to perfection! It wasn't overdone, but was incredibly sweet and melted my heart. I've had zero tolerance for romance within books lately, but I didn't roll my eyes one single time while reading this story. THAT is a huge compliment coming from me! ;) Sandra proves that one doesn't need all that extra "stuff" that most all Christian authors insist on these days to keep things "real". Seriously, it was perfect, and I'm grateful that I was once again able to enjoy a sweet romance without my sarcastic side coming out.

Despite the fact that the romance portion was beautifully done, there's a great deal more to the story than that. That's really such a small portion of the book. There's also so much historically to learn from the book, and it's all done in an interesting way. That is another thing I love so much about Sandra's books. They're like "living books" for me! (Charlotte Mason/homeschooling term)

While this book is considered Christian Fiction, I really do think that it will be enjoyed by a wide audience. Annabel is Catholic, and that plays a huge part of the story. I have to admit that my knowledge of Catholic things is hugely lacking, but this story gave me a small glimpse into that world, and I can't help but appreciate that.

In the end, I have to say that Bride of a Distant Ilse is an amazing story, and one I can easily recommend, especially if you enjoy Gothic Victorian romances. I loved it, and I can't wait for more from this series!

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

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Little Book Memories

I've never been the best at keeping up with the books that I read with my boys, but this past year or so, I've even gotten horrible at keeping up with my own. I want to remember these things, though, so as motivation hits me, and memories and moments happen, I want to do better. Baby steps!

Our Current Read Aloud:

Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn



Our aunt gave my Grasshopper the dinosaur research guide that goes with the first book last year. We ended up ordering Dinosaurs Before Dark, and the rest is history. Now I'm required to look for these books anytime I go to a used book store, and both Grasshopper and Firefly are excited when I come home with a new one. We've been using these some to go with our history studies this past school year, along with the Magic Tree House Research Guides. While I wasn't overly fond of the books at first, I have to admit they have been great for my boys. (Note: I did have to edit within the dinosaur books.)

We love Mercy Watson around here. I found the first 3 books at a thrift store several years ago, and this little pig has been special to all my boys.

The books say that Mercy is a girl. I have THE hardest time not calling this pig a boy, despite this being my third round through. I STILL refer to Mercy as "he". My mind just won't accept that this pig is a girl. I don't know why! It's a great struggle, though, and every time I read "she" in the book, which is pretty often, my mind rebels against it. I even try to remind myself that Mercy has purplish ears, but it's no use. ;) (Also, I can't remember if we've read past the first three books. One of the later books is called, "Princess in Disguise", so that might help my mind. I need to get a hold of those books, and see.) :P

Recently, my little Bumblebee brought the first 2 books to me from the shelf, and wanted me to read them. He actually listened well this time. He's been the biggest struggle for reading time, so I was thrilled! My Grasshopper couldn't resist jumping in beside me to listen, too.

(I decided to ask Grasshopper if Mercy is a boy or a girl. He answered: "Boy!" At least I'm not alone.)

I'm still (slowly) working my way through re-reading the Harry Potter series, but I've been surprised at how excited my Grasshopper is to read them. He has a few of the books that I've grabbed through the years. (It's rare that I see them when I'm out and about, unfortunately.) He thinks of these as precious treasures! We went on a 2 day trip recently, and he insisted that these books come with him. They HAD to come into the hotel room with us, too. It's all been a little surprising, but I won't complain. I haven't read any of them to him yet, nor has he read them himself(since he struggles with reading). He talks about Harry Potter a great deal, though, and has requested a book for his birthday. It's always amazing how much he picks up on things, even when I don't say anything about it. (My re-reading has been done on my kindle, so I haven't been toting the books around or anything, and I will probably attempt a read aloud of the first one soon.)

Super Happy Magic Forest is my Firefly's favorite book at the moment. He laughs hysterically when I read it, and he requests that I read it often. To be honest, I don't know why he finds the parts so funny that he does, but it's still sweet. There's lots of silly voice opportunities throughout, so I'm sure that's part of the appeal, and lots and lots of bright, fun pictures. (I did get this one for review, but will pay taxes on it, so it wasn't free. I don't know the legalities in these cases, so I mention it to be on the safe side.)

All my boys are pretty much past the ideal age for Goodnight Moon, but they ALL fell in love with it in their younger years. The first time I'd saw this book was when Grasshopper was born, and we got it as a gift. I remember looking through it, and wondering what all the fuss was about. There truly was something magical about the book for all of my little guys, though.


What are your favorite books right now?

Grasshopper: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Harry Potter, Magic Tree House, and Jurassic Park. (No, we haven't read Jurassic Park with him!) ;)

Firefly: Paw Patrol, Animals books, the Warren book(Warren the 13th and the All Seeing Eye), Mercy Watson

Bumblebee: PIG! (Mercy Watson AND Peppa Pig)


Nourish Your Family's Spiritual Health


If your family is like most, breakfast is rushed to get everyone out the door. Lunch is spent at school or work. So where does that leave dinner? Nourish your family's spiritual health as you eat supper together. Adventures in Odyssey and Odyssey Adventure Club want to give you a free resource to help you begin your new dinner tradition of making the most of your family mealtime, beginning this Easter season. Simply head to this page and fill out the form to receive a free sample of Whit's End Mealtime Devotions.


Want new resources to continue to build your family's faith, even after Easter is over? Consider signing your family up for the Odyssey Adventure Club (OAC). It offers safe and free content for everyone in your family. Membership to the OAC costs just $9.99 a month — or even less if parents make a six-month or one-year commitment. Enrollment provides more than enough content to keep kids engaged throughout the year:

  • Access to exclusive content and first looks at books and select Radio Theatre dramas.
  • On-the-go access to the OAC app for both iOS and Android users.
  • 24/7 streaming access to nearly 800 AIO episodes.
  • A new, members-only AIO episode every month.
  • A subscription to Adventures in Odyssey Clubhouse Magazine, and more.
To learn more about the Odyssey Adventure Club, visit www.oaclub.org, Facebook, Twitter. and Pinterest.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Life Giving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming by Sally and Sarah Clarkson


How to make home your family’s favorite place to be . . . all year long.
Does your home sometimes feel like just a place to eat, sleep, and change clothes on the way to the next activity? Do you long for “home” to mean more than a place where you stash your stuff? Wouldn’t you love it to become a haven of warmth, rest, and joy . . . the one place where you and your family can’t wait to be?

There is good news waiting for you in the pages of The Lifegiving Home. Every day of your family’s life can be as special and important to you as it already is to God. In this unique book designed to help your family enjoy and celebrate every month of the year together, you’ll discover the secrets of a life-giving home from a mother who created one and her daughter who was raised in it: popular authors Sally and Sarah Clarkson. Together they offer a rich treasure of wise advice, spiritual principles, and practical suggestions. You’ll embark on a new path to creating special memories for your children; establishing home-building and God-centered traditions; and cultivating an environment in which your family will flourish. (Don’t miss the companion piece, The Lifegiving Home Experience.)

My Thoughts: 

The Life Giving Home has officially earned the newest "hugworthy" title. I seriously just want to hug it tight. I loved it so, so much.

I have to admit, I haven't always connected with Mrs. Clarkson's writing. To be perfectly honest, that disconnection has usually came with quotes from children. I'm left thinking I don't have a chance, because we don't talk so mature, and our children definitely don't. That's why we don't compare, folks! ;) It's perfectly fine if her children talk very mature, and it's perfectly fine if mine don't. (My oldest is only 7, anyway.) Correcting my sinful mind in that area opened up my mind to all the wisdom that Mrs. Clarkson possesses. She is FULL of it! This book is also co-authored by Sarah Clarkson, and she is full of wisdom herself. I've been filling my mind and heart with the Clarksons' advice through the past couple of years, but after this book, I hope to read each and every one of their books.

So often while reading, I found myself thinking "I want that for my family!" There is tons of advice and recommendations on how to do just that. It was highly encouraging! I'm keeping this book close by at all times right now.

If you're like me, it can all get a little depressing at first. Despite being what I want for my family, life around here is so far from what is described within the book. "Baby steps" is typically the way to go with me, and is also recommended by Mrs. Clarkson. She reminds us that it's taken her years to get where she's at. Too, it's important for me to not focus so much on every little thing that isn't "perfect", and focus on the little moments and the things that do go as hoped and planned.

I appreciate her honesty, too. Life around their home wasn't perfect, and she admits so, but she also doesn't dwell on it. When I first started blogging, I needed honesty from other mamas. It seems like people are SO honest these days that the bad things in the adventure of being a mommy are dwelled upon, and I sure don't need that. At this point, I need mostly the good things to be the focus, with just enough of the hard times thrown in there to make me know I'm not dealing with perfection. Mrs. Clarkson does a perfect job of balancing the two, and I've found myself soaking up her advice more and more.

Aside from the Bible, I find myself gravitating towards the advice of Charlotte Mason and Sally Clarkson more than anyone else these days. They are full of wisdom and experience, advice, and encouragement. I already have my book all marked up from the first round of reading. Lord willing, I'll be referring to it much more through the years, and I'm sure it'll get marked up more and more. Obviously, I HIGHLY recommend The Life Giving Home! It's a treasure!

*A huge thanks to Tyndale for providing me with a review copy, in exchange for my honest opinion!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Paris Street Style by Zoe de las Cases


The adult coloring book is reinvented in a brand new format.

Wherever you’re off to, take this cheeky and charming coloring journal with you. Transport yourself to the corner p√Ętisserie, and give life to the stylish essentials laid out from your suitcase. Beautifully detailed outfits, accessories, and hairstyles complement the equally ornate cityscapes. Embellish whimsical, full-page patterns and classic dresses with your own style. Window shop the elegant stores of Paris while you give life to playful fashion. Like a high-end journal, this sleek package has an elastic closure and a satin ribbon marker so you can dip in and dip out of your own French fashion week. With nothing more than some colored pencils, you'll be on your way to a stress-free, Parisian-chic day.

My Thoughts:

While I've always loved coloring, I now have a fascination with all the beautiful "adult" coloring books that have flooded the market. In one particular store I visited, there were more adult coloring books filling the shelves than children's books. I must admit that made me a little sad, but I still can't help but be excited about all the coloring choices available to me now.

In this book, Paris Street Style, the main focus is on fashion. I love seeing beautiful clothes on other people, especially on Pinterest, but generally, I'm very simple with my clothes. (My goal is to blend in, and be as normal as possible, and not go too far in either direction.) I even loved seeing all the clothes on the movie The Devil Wears Prada, and it remains one of my favorites. For myself, though, I HATE shopping for clothes. I wish there was a way to get what I need without trying on things at stores. I spent several hours one day recently trying to replenish my little wardrobe with better fitting clothes, and I came home with SUCH a headache. I prefer shopping for books! I can imagine most people that know me in real life would snicker at the fact that I'm reviewing a fashion coloring book. (I don't mind being honest with y'all!) ;)

Paris Street Style is filled with pretty clothes, so I get the chance to experience the beauty of fashion without having to put myself in them. I even get to make them any color I want, and don't have to worry about the price or the size or whether it fits right/wrong. It's fun! There's also fun patterns to color and buildings and stores from Paris. There's even French words scattered throughout.

The book itself is somewhat like a sketchbook. It's square shaped, and smaller than any of the other coloring books I've had. Unless one looks closely at the front, or opens it up, it's not obvious that it's a coloring book. The cover is somewhat thick, and it's a bit stiff at first. It requires a little breaking in time. The pages are also nice and thick. There's even a ribbon bookmark and an elastic band to wrap around the cover when it's not in use. It's nice!

This is a lovely coloring book if you enjoy fashion in any variety of ways!

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

Devotions and Activities for Your Whole Family


Even though we celebrate Easter a little different around here than most Christians do, I know some of you could benefit from these activities and devotions, so I'll share them with you. :)

Adventures in Odyssey and Odyssey Adventure Club want to provide your family with a week of meaningful, fun Easter activities to help make the holiday come alive this year. Simply head to this page and sign up to download your free PDF full of family devotions, egg wraps, recipes, crafts, and cards. Oh, and as a bonus, here's a free activity sheet from Focus on the Family!


If you're looking to dig into the Easter holiday more and want to build your kids' faith, consider signing your family up for the Odyssey Adventure Club (OAC). It offers safe and free content for everyone in your family. Membership to the OAC costs just $9.99 a month — or even less if parents make a six-month or one-year commitment. Enrollment provides more than enough content to keep kids engaged throughout the year:

  • Access to exclusive content and first looks at books and select Radio Theatre dramas.
  • On-the-go access to the OAC app for both iOS and Android users.
  • 24/7 streaming access to nearly 800 AIO episodes.
  • A new, members-only AIO episode every month.
  • A subscription to Adventures in Odyssey Clubhouse Magazine, and more.
To learn more about the Odyssey Adventure Club, visit www.oaclub.org, Facebook, Twitter. and Pinterest.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Northanger Abbey Read-Along: Week 2

Favorite Quotes:

I have several favorite quotes, so I'm going to put down a few of them. I couldn't decide on just one this time!

"Her own family were plain, matter-of-fact people who seldom aimed at wit of any kind; her father, at the utmost, being contented with a pun, and her mother with a proverb; they were not in the habit therefore of telling lies to increase their importance, or of asserting at one moment what they would contradict the next."

I relate to that! It takes more patience than I care for to deal with people like this, and lots of prayers! I could step up on a soapbox with this topic, but I'll try to refrain. ;) I have a super hard time tolerating lies, though, and it makes the anger bubble under my skin!

"This civility was duly returned; and they parted-on Miss Tilney's side with some knowledge of her new acquaintance's feelings, and on Catherine's, without the smallest consciousness of having explained them."

I just find that sweet, and makes me like Catherine even more.

"It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull, or the jackonet. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and something of a shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter."

Such Truth!

Discussion Questions:

1. Is Isabella a friend or a "frenemy"? Do you think there's the seed of a genuine friendship between her and Catherine, or is Isabella only loyal to her own ambitions?

I'm not fond of Isabella at this point, so I think she's definitely a frenemy, and only out for herself. She appears quite selfish, indeed!

2. Let's talk about John Thorpe, whose presence is obviously a problem! How would you advise Catherine in her interactions with Mr. Thorpe?

What a man! A HORRIBLE one! ;)

"Novels are all so full of nonsense and stuff; there has not been a tolerably decent one come out since Tom Jones, except The Monk; I read that t'other day; but as for all the others, they are the stupidest things in creation."

A quote from John Thorpe himself. I love how Jane Austen created a reader in Catherine, and a somewhat non-reader in Thorpe(although he appears more of an exaggerator and liar, as opposed to a true non-reader). My advice for Catherine? In this case, avoidance and honesty.

3. Do you agree with Mr. Tilney's comparisons between dancing and marriage? And do you consider dancing an important component of romance?

I'm going to mostly pass on this question, since I really have no experience with dancing. I read that particular passage twice, and I think I can agree with both of them to an extent, but I have no strong opinion on it.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale and Austenland, the Movie

I LOVE the movie, Austenland, and it just might be my most favorite movie at the moment. I've watched it several times, and it never ceases to make me laugh. It's so sweet and corny, and just plain fun. I even love the music, and have it on my Amazon playlist. As opposed to a comfort read, it's my comfort watch.

Being in an Austenland mood, I decided to give Midnight in Austenland a chance. I don't recall being overly fond of Austenland, the book, but I was still curious about this one. I think I've stayed away from it until now based on the fact that I wasn't sure the romance was scriptural within it. I decided that if it wasn't, I'd just put it aside. Thankfully, it is, and I was able to read with complete ease.

I had such fun reading Midnight! It was one I didn't want to put down. I'd heard it mentioned before that this one was much darker than the first book, and it is! There's a mystery taking up a large chunk of the book, and I found some of it surprising. Despite being a light and funny read, it has its dark and serious moments. The romance portion was actually much smaller than I imagined it would be, but I'm actually glad of that. It was somewhat thrown in there carelessly, even though I somewhat had my suspicions from the beginning. I still had such fun reading the book, though, that I'm willing to overlook it.

I can't talk about Austenland and not mention Jennifer Coolidge. She plays the part of Miss Elizabeth Charming and she is THE perfect person for this part. She makes the movie, for me. I can't imagine I'd like it near as much without her, even though I do love Keri Russell and JJ Field in their parts, too. It was thrilling to discover that Miss Charming plays a large role in this book, too, and it was simply too easy to picture Jennifer Coolidge while reading her part. I could hear her voice, and it was just perfection. I chuckled and smiled throughout.

If you're in the mood for a super light, but fun read, I recommend reading the first book(even though it wasn't my favorite), and then watching the movie. Then, pick up this book! At the very least, you'll get in some laughs. If you're in the mood for a deep read, save these for another time, though. For me, it was just what I needed at the moment.

*Austenland, the movie, is rated PG-13 for suggestive content/crude humor, and for good reason. There's plenty of it, but it's still a pretty clean movie, especially considering it's PG-13. I've only heard one word of profanity, and most movies of that rating have plenty more.

**Midnight in Austenland has a bit of mild profanity(more so than what I'd read in a content review, so I'm wondering if it was revised or something).

***Both the books and the movie were borrowed from my library, just for personal reference.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Adventures in Odyssey: God Came to Show Us God's Extravagant Love


The Bible is no doubt a timeless book, but often it's seen by the younger generation as ancient and antiquated. How can we make the stories of the Bible—particularly the Easter story—alive and exciting for our children? Adventures in Odyssey has created a free activity kit for families to experience the Easter story brought to life through eight days of Christ-centered and fun activities. Click here to sign up and download the kit for free.


If you're looking to bring the Bible to life further during the Easter season, consider signing your family up for the Odyssey Adventure Club (OAC). It offers safe and free content for everyone in your family. Membership to the OAC costs just $9.99 a month — or even less if parents make a six-month or one-year commitment. Enrollment provides more than enough content to keep kids engaged throughout the year:

  • Access to exclusive content and first looks at books and select Radio Theatre dramas.
  • On-the-go access to the OAC app for both iOS and Android users.
  • 24/7 streaming access to nearly 800 AIO episodes.
  • A new, members-only AIO episode every month.
  • A subscription to Adventures in Odyssey Clubhouse Magazine, and more.
To learn more about the Odyssey Adventure Club, visit www.oaclub.org, Facebook, Twitter. and Pinterest.


*Note: My family doesn't celebrate Easter the same way that most Christians do, but that doesn't mean I can't share these activities with y'all! ;)


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Northanger Abbey Read-Along: Week 1

Just a head's up, but I have lots and lots of catch up posts that will be rolling through in the next week or so, Lord willing.

Today, though, is about the first 3 chapters of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. If you'd like to participate in the read along this month, check out Amber's introduction post at Seasons of Humility.


This week's discussion covers chapters 1-3.

Favorite Quote:

"As for admiration, it was always very welcome when it came, but she did not depend on it."

General Impressions:

I started reading Northanger Abbey a couple of weeks ago. I'd recently watched Austenland(yet again) and then read Midnight in Austenland, and that made me want to read some real Jane Austen. I guess I somewhat randomly picked Northanger Abbey, though Midnight in Austenland does mention this one. You may remember if you've been around here long that I greatly struggle with reading actual Jane Austen, though I love the time period and I WANT to love her writing. I truly feel like if I could get into the book long enough to not give up on it, I would fall in love with her writing and devour the other books. Then again, maybe it wasn't meant to be.

I'm not ready to give up just yet, though. I was already struggling, and then I saw this read-along. I felt the timing couldn't have been more perfect, and so I'm hoping a little extra encouragement will go a long way in this case. A chapter a day is very realistic! ;)

I had got to chapter 5, but decided to start my reading over, with my hopes even higher than they were the first time. Within only 3 chapters of rereading, I've already found parts that I missed the first time through. Apparently, I was spacing out while making my way through the words. So far, this time around, I'm enjoying my time in Northanger Abbey greatly, and I hope that continues!

Discussion Questions:

1. What do you find most endearing about Catherine's character? Do you consider her to be good heroine material?

So far, she seems sweet. While I have nothing against beautiful and talented heroines, I do find perfectly average heroines refreshing. It seems they discover their talents and a new side of themselves by the end. As someone that is perfectly average(except for my painful awkwardness), and as someone that is still looking for my talent, I connect with these heroines. They give me hope for myself. Since she is the heroine, though, I expect growth and challenge, and I'm eager to see how she turns out.

2. What are your first impressions of Mr. and Mrs. Allen? What sort of impact do they have on Catherine?

I'll keep this one short and sweet, but so far my impression of them isn't good. At this point, I don't expect anything good from them.

3. Has Mr. Tilney already stolen your heart, or are you still forming your opinion of his character? Which of his positive or negative qualities stand out to you most? Do you consider him to be good hero material?

I have to confess that while I haven't watched the movie, and I don't really know what will happen in this book(other than what is revealed within Midnight in Austenland), I do know that JJ Field plays the part of Tilney. I don't claim myself a fan of JJ, just because I've only seen him in Austenland, but I DO love that character. He portrays him to be quirky and sweet and such a gentleman. I'm picturing the same character so far for Tilney and I can't help but like him. I really think I would like him anyway, though. Tilney appears to be humorous and quirky himself!


Note: I DO have a post for Midnight in Austenland Shannon Hale and Austenland, the movie! Lord willing, that will go up soon.