Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I Broke My Own Rule!

If you were to check my Kindle right now you would realize I have broken my own rule. I am currently reading more than one book. I usually get by with reading one fiction and one non-fiction (or possibly "school" book), but that is not the case right now. I think it is because it is crunch time which just means summer is almost over and there are a lot of great books! So, I am going to steal my sister's idea and tell you what is on my nightstand...although technically three of the four books are on my Kindle.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller was assigned to me by my principal. The 7th and 8th grade Reading department is reading it as a book study. This is one amazing book. I read half of it in one day and plan on finishing it next week. The only draw back is that it is not my own copy so I can't write in it; however, I have solved that problem with a TON of sticky notes and tabs. You should see this poor book it has paper sticking out of each end. There are so many quotes I love from this book, but I will share with you one that really resonated with me.

"I share with my students what no literacy expert could ever teach me. Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time. Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. Through characters-the saints and sinners, real or imagined-reading shows you how to be a better human being." Donalyn Miller (page 18)

Wow! That get's me excited about this next school year! I hope that I can teach my students all those things about reading!

Your Money Counts by Howard Dalton came to me by way of my dad. He asked that my sister and I read one of Howard Dayton's books this summer and we picked this one. I am very much ahead of my sister in reading by the way! Well, I do not have those daunting nursing books staring me in the face so she has a good reason for not starting this book. I am enjoying this book more than I thought I would. Dayton gives Biblically based financial help through practical examples. His book is very encouraging. I know this will be a book I go back to throughout my life.

I have been reading a lot of Christian fiction this summer. A LOT! Many people would call Christian fiction fluff. I have to admit that among the Christian values presented in this genre there is a some fluff. After I read a lot of Christian fiction I do sometimes get caught up in the romance and the perfectness of it. So I decided to go to something more classic. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Yes, there is still romance, but the language of the novel makes up for it. I really have to use my brain to understand Austen so I feel like it is a bit more intellectual. Now, of course the movie is my favorite so it is easy to picture the movie scenes while reading which helps me understand it a whole lot more. 

The Pursuit of Godby A.W. Tozer came to me through my sister. It was a free download on kindle and she said she really enjoyed it. I started reading several months ago, but recently started over again. What an amazing read! If you want something to challenge you this is what you need. I would recommend it to everyone I know. This book will shake up what you know and challenge you to think higher about you relationship with God than ever before. Tozer reminds me of Jane Austen in that he uses higher language. It takes a little time to understand everything he is writing, but once you understand the rich language your get sucked in. I think I have highlighted almost all of the first two sections. Some people today would say Tozer is old school, out of date, but I would say he is a classic that should stick around. We have a lot to learn from this Christ-follower. Here is one of the quotes I highlighted.

 "We are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety; this is especially true when those treasures are loved relatives and friends. But we need have no such fears. Our Lord came not to destroy but to save. Everything is safe which we commit to Him, and nothing is really safe which is not so committed." A. W. Tozer

So these are the books I am reading. Hopefully I can finish all of them before school starts! What are you reading? Anything I should get my hands on? I look forward to your comments.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

One of the best things about reviewing books is that sometimes I get to preview a book that isn't even on shelves yet. It is an amazing thing to hold a book and drink in the thought that I might be the very first reader to turn its pages. Okay, so maybe other people have already read it, but it doesn't hurt to hope does it??

As I held The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky the first thought I had was the pure joy of holding a new book. I am a new book addict. It doesn't have to be "brand new" to be wonderful, but that new book smell doesn't hurt. The second thought I had was "Oh, right. I am reviewing this one." This helped me come back down from the clouds.

I have decided to break this book review into sections about each part of the above novel. I am not certain if it will be a more entertaining format, but it doesn't hurt to mix it up once in a while.

~The Cover~
At first glance, or glances, I found the cover to be very appealing. The colors are beautiful. I love how the title is showcased. I LOVE the mansion in the background which is, you guessed it, Highland Hall. The back of the book is also lovely. I don't find anything disagreeable about the heroine being on the cover; however, I have begun to like the books where the main characters' faces are not shown, as seen on several of Karen Witemeyer's book covers. It gives the reader a hint of mystery and allows them to use their imagination. This book cover tells me exactly how Turansky (or the cover designer) views Miss Julia Foster, the governess of Highland Hall, which in the end became beneficial to me as I will later describe. So, yes the cover is appealing and the woman on the front playing the role of Julia Foster is most agreeable; however, I did not envision said person as I delved into the novel.

~The Setting~

1911. England. Highland Hall. Seems pretty generic. Granted, I did not personally experience post WWI England. But as an literary scholar I want to ask why 1911? In this novel there seemed to be no significance in the date choice. Though I would guess Turansky might use the first world war in subsequent novels. However, here one might think she pulled the date out of a hat. (I have often wondered how an author chooses a date and pulling one out of a hat might be the easiest method after all). England. What a novel idea! (pardon the pun) These days I do not find many Christian fiction novels set in England. There seems to be an overabundance of Western novels (some of my favorites mind you) and Contemporary novels. Turansky seems to be following in Julie Klassen's footsteps, bringing back the Jane Austen-like novel which I am very fond of. Highland Hall. As I mentioned before the cover does a good job of portraying the esteemed Highland Hall; however, I do not remember a description in the book itself. This may be due to my lack of long-term memory skills or it may not have been a memorable description. I will leave that up to you to decide.

The first thing I noticed about The Governess of Highland Hall was how similar it is to Dowtown Abbey. The setting plays a big part in this comparison. All three parts of the setting remind me of the beloved (well I love it!) television series (if you haven't watched it you must!). The setting of this novel is also reminiscent of Upstairs Downstairs, another BBC favorite. 

~The Characters~

This novel is about a governess, as the title suggests; however it is not just about this one character. As the novel progresses characters seem to come out of the wood work. But I am getting ahead of myself. As I mentioned before the heroine, Julia Foster, is very agreeably portrayed on the book's cover; however, her description is lacking in the book. I want to make it clear that Turansky does an excellent job painting Julia's inward self. It is easy to learn from Julia's character because she is such a strong Christian who only becomes stronger in her faith. Nevertheless, the novel lacks a solid description of Julia Foster's appearance. If it wasn't for the book's cover I would not know what Julia looks like. Yes, there are descriptions of her later in the book, but I needed to be introduced to her person at the beginning.

I found the same to be true for Sir William Ramsey's character. I had to use a process of elimination to determine William's appearance. The reader is told that William's children have red hair and freckles. William himself mentions, later in the story, that the children take after their mother in this regard. So I deduced  that William does not have red hair. Then the reader is told, even later, what William's brother looks like. David has a mustache and is shorter than William. To no avail, I still don't know what William looks like. 

This lack of knowledge continued with many of the characters. I felt that their heads and appendages were made out of question marks. So I used the old imagination. My comparison of this novel and Downtown Abbey did not stop at the setting it also leaked into the characters. For Mrs. Emmitt I envisioned Mrs. Hughes, played by Phyllis Logan. For Mr. Lawrence I saw Mr Carson, played by Jim Carter. For Ann, the maid, I saw Daisy Mason, played by Sophie McShera. You probably see a trend here so I won't bore you with the rest of my list. Many of the Dowtown Abbey characters appearance not only fit the bill, but they also had many of the qualities of Turansky's characters.

As the characters kept emerging I truelly wondered if Carrie Turansky watched Dowtown Abbey before writing her first draft. So many of the characters remind me of Downtown Abbey characters. To top it all off Turansky adds a love interest between lady of the manor, Sarah Ramsey, and the head gardener, Clark Dalton. Does this remind anyone of a similar lady and chauffeur?  

Although the descriptions of characters' personal appearances were lacking, their personalities were rich and by the middle of the book the amount of characters ceased to be confusing and I realized they all had a purpose to fulfill in the plot.


In the end, I enjoyed The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky. There were a few twists and turns that made it exciting and a happily-ever-after ending that everyone longs for. I think I would have liked it to end badly though. Or maybe if it would have ended with a cliff hanger I would have been much more eager to read the second book Turansky is now writing. However, as my sister just pointed out, it is Christian fiction...nothing every ends badly. 

Thank you to Carrie Turansky for a good read and to the publisher for sending me a copy of this novel in exchange for a honest review. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ripples Along the Shore by Mona Hodgson

Can a War Widow Escape Her Grief—and Find God’s Promise—on a Wagon Train West? 
When Caroline Milburn steps off the boat and back into her hometown of St. Charles, MO, part of her wishes she could step right back on board and sail away. St. Charles, though home to her beloved friends and quilting circle, hasn’t felt like home since the death of her husband. And living with her sister, Jewell’s family hasn’t provided much balm for her grieving heart. Caroline knows something needs to change—but for now she’s stuck sharing her sister’s home, and enduring the anger and bitterness of her brother-in-law.
But change is brewing in St. Charles. A group of brave souls are preparing to head west on the Boones Lick Wagon Train, led by the mysterious and handsome Garrett Cowlishaw. Despite her dislike for Mr. Cowlishaw, who served as a Confederate soldier in the war that killed her husband, Caroline is tempted to join the wagon train and start fresh somewhere new.
When the lovely young widow makes her intentions to travel west known, Garrett Cowlishaw forbids her—a single woman—to travel with them. Will one man’s prejudice destroy Caroline’s hope for a new future? Or will the ripples of God’s love bring the answer she needs? -Amazon.com


Ripples Along the Shore  written by Mona Hodgson is the third installment of her series The Quilted Heart.  This novella continues the story of Mrs. Bratenberg's quilting group and the ladies within it. The reader is given updates of Emilie Heinrich and Quaid McFarland featured in the second novella and other characters as well. This third novella; however, focuses more on Caroline Milburn who learns that her husband has died in the Civil War. She struggles to move on with her life and learns to cling to God's will for her future. 

This novella seemed shorter than the last one. The length of the story did not make it less worth reading, but it did make me eager to read Hodgson's upcoming book Prairie Song the first in her Hearts Seeking Home series which will come out in August of this year. Supposedly in this series, the lives of those in The Quilted Heart will continue. Especially the stories of those who are journeying west in Garrett Cowlishaw's wagon train (which was featured in Ripples Along the Shore

I enjoyed the budding relationship between Caroline Milburn and Garrett Cowlishaw which included more banter than heart-felt words in this novella. I hope they will be featured in a novel of their own to finish off their soon-to-be romance. From the novella I could ascertain that both characters have a lot of emotional baggage to work through before they can truly be together.

I hope that the novels will be even better than the novella series. I look forward to reading about these characters in more depth and length as only a novel can accommodate.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Back to School Blues


Yesterday I made a serious mistake...I printed out the school calendar and updated my planner. How could I have known horror awaited me: 

Only 34 Days Until I Return to School!?

Somehow, time has flown by without me noticing. The sand in the hour glass has fallen at a rapid speed while I have been distracted by summer. 

I don't want to go

I know we all feel this way. Except for parents....I think parents secretly pray for the day they can send their kiddos back to school so that they can get back to regular schedules. I have no knowledge of this so if I am wrong please forgive me. I was homeschooled and I know my mom loved every moment with me. I was a complete joy to be around. I doubt she ever wished she could send me somewhere else. 

In light of only having 34 days left I realized that...

I still have a LONG to do list to accomplish before the 15th! How am I going to get it done when all I want to do is sleep in and eat sugar all day? Here I thought I would be itching to get back planning, but I am very comfortable in my summer coma. This summer coma, as I call it, includes lots of Fiction, movies, pj days, and yes, the occasional ice cream sandwich. So instead of focusing on my TO DO list I have made a list of things I will miss after we start back to school.

What I will miss once I welcome 100+ teenagers back into my life:
  1. I will miss drinking liquids-especially water-when I want or need it.
  2. I will miss sitting down when my legs are tired.
  3. I will miss being able to go to the bathroom when I need to go.
  4. I will miss being able to eat my lunch for as long as I want. (I finally re-learned how to eat my food slowly-chewing before swallowing.)
  5. I will miss waking up at 8:30. 5:30 is going to be difficult.
  6. I will miss wearing whatever I want to wear. (I don't think my principal would approve pajamas at work.) 
  7. I will miss not being judged by what I am wearing. (My sister wears her pjs too and so do the majority of people at Walmart.)
  8. I will miss the quiet of home.
  9. I will miss looking over and seeing my sister in the room (she is my buddy).
  10. I will miss the energy to stay up late....back to an 8:30 bed time routine.
  11. I will miss wearing my baseball cap. Washing your hair every day is overrated. 
  12. I will miss free weekends without papers to grade and lesson plans to put in.
As I think towards the first days of school I can't help but cringe because as much as I love summer vacation my students love it 100 times more. I wish there was a way to make them forget summer vacation.

I would probably have a lot of angry parents once they found out I hypnotized their kids the first week of school. Or they may give me a hug and thank me because it is a lot easier to get their kids out of bed in the morning. 

Nope, there isn't a way to stop time for passing and their isn't a way to make the kids think they weren't just on summer break, but there is a way for me to change my attitude. So instead of focusing on the list above of :what I will miss" I am going to focus on a new list of what I look forward to. You have to admit it, fellow teachers, you look forward to these things too!

What I look forward to when school begins again:
  1. Redecorating/organizing my classroom.
  2. Hearing our principal pump us up for the new year.
  3. Seeing students in uniform rushing to their classes.
  4. Meeting students who absolutely LOVE to read.
  5. Meeting students who hate to read, but looking forward to the day when I hand them that one book that they will enjoy.
  6. Seeing my teaching partners in the hall between classes. 
  7. Seeing my students from last year. I am sure they have grown so much! They had better say hi to me!
  8. Finding out if I really have grown as a teacher. Will some thing be easier for me since I have done it before?
  9. 7th and 8th grade football! I have two grades to cheer for this year. (adding to TO DO list: dust off pom poms)
  10. September 2nd, Labor Day, the first day off of the school year!

As the new school year draws closer I will begin to pray for my students and pray for the teachers at my school. God brought us through 2012-2013 and He will carry us through 2013-2014. As long as we are doing everything for His glory He will bless our effort. Once again I am getting excited about what He will teach me. Only He knows what goes before me and I will strive every day to place my hand in His and surrender to His leading.

I hope all of you enjoy the rest of your summer. Whatever you endeavor to do when school begins (whether you teach or not) put your hand in His and He will lead you.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What I learned from Man of Steel

I have always wondered what place movies have in a Christian's life. I was contemplating this very thing while watching Man of Steel today. As shards of glass exploded from falling buildings, flames burst into the sky, and cars sailed around this other-wordly man in a tight blue suit and red cape I wondered why I was watching. Was I really getting anything from it?

Disclaimer: Before I tell you what I learned from this film note that if you have not seen Man of Steel you may see or read things below that will give parts of the movie away. Continue with caution. I hope this is as meaningful to you as it is to me. 


1. Russell Crowe becomes a father and he is a good one! (He has come a long way from his Gladiator days.)  Don't judge him for sending his only son to a new world completely naked.

2. When Clark Kent finds himself shirtless (I am not sure why they put that in the movie) and in need of a change of clothes he grabs the first clothes he can find, even though they more than likely belong to a short and stocky fisherman. 

But don't worry he's Superman-or he will be-so THEY WILL FIT PERFECTLY. 

That fisherman wishes he looked that good in those clothes.

3. Clark Kent is flame retardant. Who knew? (Maybe this is why he had no choice but to take off his shirt.) Why couldn't this event have earned him the name Flame Retardant Man or Fireboy? Okay, so it was good that didn't come about. Superman is way more...super. 

4. This guy is General Zod (who named these people? Really, that's all they could come up with?) He has real issues. Before they encrusted him in ice maybe they should have sent him to counseling. But I guess then we wouldn't have needed the rest of the movie.

5. Thankfully all will be well because this is not an S it is the symbol of hope. Though for Lois Lane...it is still an S. You go, girl!

6. When Clark puts on the suit for the first time he automatically becomes clean shaven. I guess no one wants a bearded Superman.

7. Superman's red cape is not just for flying....it hides a lot.

8. When on the Krypton ship Lois needs something to help her breathe, but why doesn't Superman?  He has been living and breathing on Earth for 33 years, but now he is suddenly BEYOND OXYGEN? Maybe that's why his nose starts to bleed. He should have just asked for the breather.

When I watch this movie again I might just yell out..."Put on a breather!!" to see if anything changes.

9. Lois is indestructible. At this point of the movie she is beyond oxygen too. I guess when you are holding on to a handsome superhero you don't need any air.

 10. When the world outside is crumbling and you are standing in terror never fear! Superman will look over at you and say..."Go inside, it is dangerous out here."

11. Clark Kent/ Superman is a sensitive guy. He doesn't want to choose between his Krypton world and humans. He takes care of his mom. He knows how to control his anger. He doesn't pick on the little guy.  He is tall and dark with blaring blue eyes. He loves Lois Lane, but until the next movie (if there is one) he is still single. He is the perfect man....or whatever he is.


So, I may not have learned anything life changing from Man of Steel, but it was entertaining. I hope I entertained you a little bit with this post. If you are like me, after watching Man of Steel you can't help but look at the clouds and wonder... Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it's....!!

My little pony?!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Bending Toward The Sun by Mona Hodgson

Bending Toward the Sun is the second Novella in Mona Hodgson's series The Quilted Heart. The following is taken from Amazon.com.

Can the Divine Quilter stitch together the torn pieces of Emilie’s heart?
Divided between the love of her father and the desires of her heart, Emilie Heinrich must rely on the love and wisdom of the women in her quilting circle for support. Since Emilie is dedicated to her education and to helping her father in his general store, she is convinced she doesn't have time for love. But when a childhood friend returns to St. Charles, Missouri, after serving in the Civil War, his smile and charm captures Emilie’s eye and her heart. 
Quaid McFarland has a gentleness and humor that causes Emilie to question her indifference toward romance. But her German father sees only one thing when he looks at the young man: an Irish teamster. And Johann Heinrich is not about to let such a man court his beloved daughter.
Her father’s prejudices test Emilie’s faith in God’s ability to mend the patchwork pieces of her life. Will she be forced to choose between honoring her father and a future with a husband and family of her own? 


This is my first encounter with Mona Hodgson. I had the choice between this book or the third book in the series so I chose this one. I hoped that I had not missed much from the first book, with regards to the introduction of characters. I found that each Novella in the series is primarily about one female character; however, there is mention of several of the other female characters throughout the story (an update of sorts). The connecting thread is that each female character is a member of a quilting circle lead by Mrs. Brantenberg who is a godly woman who consistently gives encouragement and prayer to the younger women who join her to sew. I found her character very encouraging. She is the heart and soul of the quilting group and through her, the younger women learn who they are as daughters of Christ. She is compared to a "careful mother hen...who cared for her chicks, even the newest ones." She reminds the girls that "God, the Divine Quilter, has the perfect patchwork pattern for our lives." What a perfect analogy. As a new quilter I understand this analogy a little better and I always need to be reminded of it.

Bending Toward the Sun is primarily about Emilie Heinrich and her growing affections towards Quaid McFarland. The Novella is set soon after the Civil War in a community rich in diverse heritages. 

The downside of Christian Fiction Novellas is often that the author spins the tale too quickly. Events that need more time happen in a day, the characters are often underdeveloped, and there is sometimes too much dialogue. Mona Hodgson's characters are perfectly developed. Even the characters that were only mentioned once or twice in the story were described well. I found that there was not too much dialogue. Hodgson's use of description of setting helped me visualize what the characters were seeing and when there was dialogue it was meaningful. I do feel that some of the events were sped up due to the lack of "time." Although Emilie and Quaid knew each other as children it is a little hard to believe that they would realize they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together in such a short time. From the beginning of the Novella to the end it seemed like merely weeks. As a single young woman, I find this hard to believe and a little disappointing. I like reading love stories that are realistic and inspiring...something I would like to experience. Emilie and Quaid's relationship, though sweet, is a little too good to be true.

After reading Bending Toward the Sun I would like to read the third in the series and I would like to read one of Hodgson's Novels to see the difference in timing. Hodgson's writing style is not one I would discount. I did like how the characters constantly went back to God's love and God's will for their life. Too often in Christian fiction, there is too little faith and too much physical affection. With this Novella that is not the case; although, I would have rethought the placement of the Novella's one kiss. I think it would have been better placed near the end. The idea that a male character has to prove his affection through a passionate kiss unnerves me a little. Why can't the leading man and leading lady just talk it out?? I guess that will always be a conundrum for me.

Thank you to Ms. Hodgson's for a sweet Novella and to the publisher for giving me this ebook in exchange for an honest review.