January 5, 2014

Perfectly Matched by Maggie Brendan: Blue Willow Brides Comes to an End

Perfectly Matched is the last book in Maggie Brendan's Blue Willow Bride series, and it provides a nice conclusion to the triology. Despite the parallel basic plots of the books, Perfectly Matched tells a distinctive story that is all its own.

Anna Olsen and Edward Parker's marriage starts at the launch of the book and doesn't progress through a series of jumps and setbacks in the dramatic fashion of some mail-order bride books. Instead, it relies on more of a dance with a shuffle step to the side when a disaster occurs or a problem must be addressed. The couple is never pulled apart for the sake of being put back together. No "Humpty Dumpty" syndrome. The marriage grows in a more natural way and shows the challenges of two people who first begin a life and household together whether they knew each other previously or not.

I felt like the give and take of their relationship was realistic and charming. I also appreciated the fact that both characters enjoyed a life and a purpose both within and outside of their marriage. Anna's love of animals leads her down a road to charity work while Edward maintains a watch shop that is seeking out interesting new sources of revenue. Two industrious main characters = interesting read.

I would recommend Perfectly Matched, the entire Blue Willow Brides trilogy, and Maggie Brendan's former and future works. They are enjoyable fun for an afternoon or weekend diversion.

Disclosure: I received an eGalley of this volume in order to review the copy.

November 12, 2013

Streaming Netflix with Up In Flames Drunken Bananas with Spiced Ice Cream

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Netflix. All opinions are 100% mine.

Do you love to multi-task?

I do…most of the time.

By this I mostly mean I like to spice up step-by-step process tasks with a bit of fun. I marathon watched Desperate Housewives and every other program I could get my hands one while answering text message questions for a season. I have also always enjoyed watching TV during holiday prep time. We always tuned into the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade while it was on then enjoyed a viewing of Miracle on 34th Street when the real parade was no longer maching along.

These days, Netflix is available to offer an endless selection of entertainment options while you take care of a different type of busy work – holiday meal preparations. If you do up a fancy Thanksgiving Day dinner, you need to prep a turkey, stuffing or dressing, rolls, cranberry sauce, and a few luscious desserts. All of that takes time -- time you could be spending with family or catching up on those excellent television shows you have meaning to watch since they debuted one or two years ago...or both.

Luckily, Netflix has lots of hot, current shows available for you to view...usually with the most recent seasons as well.. I know they have several favorites I would love to rewatch. I can’t wait to watch the cast of New Girl prepare Thanksgiving dinner in the loft on a day that everything else goes wrong (there is a dead body, a turkey in the dryer and even more mayhem in one 30 minute episode). I can start the season on the TV in the kitchen, pick up where I left off in the front room on the large TV, and finish up an episode or two on my tablet in bed.

Want to know if your favorite show is on Netflix or if anew season will be added soon? You can Like Netflix on FacebookFollow @Netflix on Twitter, and Follow Netflix on Pinterest to stay updated. Netflix is always adding new content!

To celebrate the portability of Netflix and get into the mood for holiday meal preparations, I whipped up a recipe Curtis Stone created to celebrate the 4th season of the hit television show Arrested Development – a season commissioned by Netflix and available exclusively on the streaming service.

The recipe I tried: Up in Flames Drunken Bananas with Spiced Ice Cream. I feel like this an homage to the hilarious episode where the Bluth Banana Stand burns to the ground…but don’t quote me on that. However, feel free to quote this recipe and whip up your own super delicious treat.

Up In Flames Drunken Bananas with Spiced Ice Cream
  • Serves: 2
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 6 minutes
  • Make-Ahead: The spiced ice cream can be made up to 3 days ahead, kept frozen. The flambéed bananas must be served as soon as they are made.

Spiced Ice Cream:
  • 1 pint vanilla ice cream
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Large pinch of ground cloves
Flambéed Bananas:
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 medium bananas, peeled
  • 1/4 cup golden rum
  • 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

To make the spiced ice cream:

1. In a medium bowl, break up the ice cream with a spoon, then mix in the nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Cover the ice cream and return it to the freezer. Keep the ice cream frozen until ready to serve.

To cook the bananas:

2. In a 12-inch nonstick frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Slice the bananas in half lengthwise and lay the bananas cut side down in the butter mixture. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the bananas are caramelized on the underside and the sugar mixture has melted and become golden brown.

3. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the rum. Using a long match, carefully ignite the rum. Be sure to do this in a well-ventilated area and away from any flammable material. Allow the flame to burn out. Turn the bananas over. Return the pan to medium heat and stir in the cream. Baste the bananas with the caramel sauce for about 1 minute.

4. Divide the bananas between two plates. Spoon some sauce over the bananas. Top each with a scoop of ice cream, and then drizzle the remaining sauce over and around the ice cream and bananas. Serve immediately.

I can't wait to enjoy Netflix while I whip up goodies for the holidays! I think it's time for some more New Girl, The Carrie Diaries, and a recap of Parks and Recreation! What shows will you be enjoying while cooking in the kitchen this year? Holiday films, hit comedies, or a little bit of drama...maybe children's shows? Let me know in the comments section below or on social media with the #Thanksgiving and #Netflix hashtags.

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November 2, 2013

Under a Blackberry Moon by Serena B. Miller: a Review

Serena B. Miller's latest release, Under a Blackberry Moon, tells the story of Skypilot and Moon Song -- two people who are friends of Katie Calloway from the first novel in this three-book set. I don't remember Moon Song stumbling into camp with her infant son in that volume, but I do remember Skypilot and the tree falling as he saved the children. While he was down, Moon Song nursed him back to health, so he endeavors to return the favor when she decides to leave the rough, prejudice logging town and return to her people on the upper peninsula of Michigan.

Despite their obvious love for each other, Moon Song turns down Skypilot's proposal because she doesn't believe a white man will remain true through the long haul. This is a story that finds a great deal of basis in reality through the book as a major steamboat accident occurs and the larger story of Moon Song's life is revealed to readers.

This journey through her life provides one of the more interesting plot twists within the book and will keep you guessing right up until the end. Also interesting is a side character with a gift for art who uses this talent to overcome a heartbreaking tragedy.

I'm not sure that this particular volume was as historically interesting as Miller's other books, but I think that is largely because it is more culturally interesting. It focuses so deeply on the Native American culture that it doesn't have to rely on the historical references many other period volumes are....it lives in a land unto itself, and it offers a lot of insight into the Chippewa culture.

Bonus: If you are familiar with the Gordon Lightfoot song "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," you may find yourself recognizing elements of this song within the book.

I would definitely recommend this volume to someone looking for an introduction to Serena's works, and it is probably a must if you have read her other Michigan-based books.

Disclosure: I received an eGalley of this book.

Rebellious Heart by Jody Hedlund Review: John and Abigail Adams' Courtship Fictionalization

Rebellious Heart by Jody Hedlund offers up a fictionalization of the courtship of John and Abigail Adams. I have commented every single time I have reviewed a Jody Hedlund book about how well she constructs both the male and female characters. The men are progressive (or at least heading that way) from the beginning and the women are strong and not prone to self-doubt when it comes to core values. They may need to work through a few things...but they are already pretty solid as individuals. Because of Hedlund's tendency to start with characters like this, it only makes sense that she would attempt to tackle the young years of a couple that truly exemplified these ideals in real life.

In this volume, John and Abigail take the form of Ben Ross, a young attorney, and Susanna Smith, a second daughter of some means who needs to make a good match to secure a lifetime of ease. Unfortunately, Susanna's chances of making a good match are a bit limited because she possesses a sharp mind and a desire to expand her intellect instead of existing in the shadows of a husband. Life is never easy is it?

While Susanna and Ben traverse the ins and outs of attraction and perceived social responsibilities and necessities, they also have to answer hard questions about loyalty to king, country, and the laws created by those entities. Do they protect those who need help even if it goes against the law?

This is a great story and a very well-written book. I said it the last time I reviewed one of Jody Hedlund's works, but I will say it again. She is right up there with Julie Klassen and Siri Mitchell as a favorite Christian fiction author of mine. Her books are as complex, involved, and detailed as those created by the above authors. Definite recommends.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this volume.

The Invention of Sarah Cummings by Olivia Newport: a Review

When I finished The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow, I could tell the next book in the Avenue of Dreams series would be about Sarah Cummings. Only in the last few pages of that book could I begin to see a light that would make Sarah an interesting person to discover and take a longer jaunt with. I was delighted that the change was furthered in this volume, and that it was actually a delight to follow the young woman in The Invention of Sarah Cummings.

...Of course, you will find out that Sarah isn't the person who was invented....

Within the pages of this book, readers go on a journey through the mind and soul of a young woman who was plunged into loneliness when her parents died and left her an older orphan capable of remembering a life that was heading in a different direction before it was stolen away. To escape the life she has, Sarah innocently engages in a bit of playacting that becomes a fully formed double-life. It leads her to a difficult choice: embrace the simple, but true life or step into a shadowed world of luxury without truth or honor.

We know from the beginning Sarah must eventually decide who she is, but it is never exactly clear how the book will work out until the last 1/3 or so, which makes it a really enjoyable reading experience. I have liked all of Olivia Newport's Avenue of Dreams series, but I think the first and third books will be my favorites. However, you should check out the entire series if you haven't already. 

Disclosure: I received an eGalley of this volume. 

October 30, 2013

My Utmost for His Highest Devotional by Oswald Chambers

The My Utmost for Highest Devotional featuring the text of the classic volume by Oswald Chambers really gets just the right mix of content and open space for a devotional journal. Each date features a multi-paragraph entry from the book at the top of the page while the bottom half features several lines for jotting down your thoughts. A Bible verse is also featured at the top.

It is also well-designed to make a beautiful Christmas gift. There are even a few different cover options available if you want to go snazzy with a faux leather! Each page features a lovely trim of brown damask and the intro papers also feature the same touches.

When I buy a devotional, I pay attention to these details because I often gift the books or treasure the physical volume long after I have journeyed through its pages. It will be a joy to revisit this volume.

Disclosure: I received an eGalley of this volume for review.

October 23, 2013

The Common English Study Bible Is a Deluxe Addition to Your Study Library

I recently had a chance to preview a portion of new Biblical study book -- the Common English Bible in a Study Edition. This volume would make an incredible edition to any library. My husband possesses a wide and varied collection of study materials, but many of those are tailored to the King James Version of the Bible. Among the study Bibles attached to newer Bible translations, I have noticed a lot of individual doctrines included in the supplemental materials -- something I can't accept.

The portions of the Common English Study Bible I have previewed don't suffer from the problem and are absolutely brimming with information. The book of Mark featured a thorough multi-page introduction complete with a crisp, color photograph.

There is also a complete "table of contents" for the individual book highlighting headings for the chapters. This is very handy for those who are looking for a verse about a particular subject in a "general area" but don't remember the exact verse number. When you don't have a supplemental subject index or concordance, this is a great help.

I look forward to purchasing a full edition of this study Bible in the near future. In addition to the standard hardcover, this Bible is also available in leather, imitation leather, and in a hardcover edition that also features the Apocrypha.

This would make a great Christmas gift for the student in your family!

Disclosure: I received a publisher provided preview of this Bible.

October 20, 2013

The Letters by Suzanne Wood Fisher: an Amish fiction review

The Letters by Suzanne Woods Fisher is the first release in a new series, The Inn at Eagle Hill, that brings the contemporary Amish world alive.

I greatly enjoyed Suzanne's last series, Stoney Ridge Seasons, and feel like this set of books will be a good follow-up, but I don't love it quiet as much as the former. The Lapp family in those books offered a unique set of characters and a delightful story in each volume. I feel like Rose Schrock and her familyis as good, but the sidelines into more modern problems, particularly financial issues, was a bit too much world when juxtaposed with the Amish lifestyle.

Rose's moral compass is strong, and the way the book starts with her being maligned by her mother-in-law despite trying so hard to keep her family together is disheartening until you realize it is part of Rose's character to have her consistently rising above. I loved that about her.

I also enjoyed the setup for yet another book featuring one of my favorite people from the Stoney Ridge books -- Jimmy Fisher (who also featured prominently in this volume). I will look forward to that in mid-January of next year.

Disclosure: I received an eGalley of this volume.

October 7, 2013

Love's Awakening by Laura Frantz a Ballantyne Legacy Review

I really enjoyed the first book in The Ballantyne Legacy series by Laura Frantz and have been eagerly anticipating Love's Awakening since the last page turned on Love's Reckoning. I'm glad to report that I wasn't disappointed.

I felt like Laura balanced very well the development of Ellie and Jack Turlock's relationship with larger plot motions focused on slavery, family discord, and the return of a major character from the first book in the series.

Ellie is a unique character in that she is a gentle and demure while also maintaining self-determination and a level-head in a few trying situations. She is at some points in the book consumed by her developing feelings for Jack while also maintaining herself in the process.

I am always impressed when an author can track human emotions through happiness, passion, and sorrow without losing the stand-out characteristics of a main player or letting the historical angle of a book falter. Laura Frantz always gets these details right and her books are always a pleasure.

Disclosure: My review is based on a publisher-provided galley.

September 22, 2013

Come As You Are And Find a Place to Belong by Lisa Troyer: A Devotional Review

Come As You Are And Find a Place to Belong by Lisa Troyer is truly what it advertises itself as, a devotional journal.

Each journaling section (two pages) features a thought at the beginning and a Bible verse or verses at the end.

Generally, I really enjoyed much of the introductory content, but wished some of them veered further away from sounding more inspirational in tone to feeling more like bona fide writing prompts to help you contemplate spiritual matters as you journal.

However, any guidance is a plus in a religious journal (I have had one that had a Bible verse in the front and that was it), and, if you come into this after a day or week attending classes and church services, you should be able to start streaming with just a little nudge.

In terms of appearance, I think this journal is attractive without being overwhelming. The pages featured colored lines which makes writing a bit more pleasant for those of who love the little details.

Disclosure: I viewed a publisher provided digital copy of this volume.