She's Still There Wellness Revelation

REVIEWS: Two Self-Help Winners!

I’ve been having a hard time finding a day for these reviews, but I enjoyed the books so much, I didn’t want to push them off any longer. So today, you get two reviews. Happy Valentine’s Day! Show some love to yourself and check these out.

She’s Still There – Summary


Have you ever found yourself in a moment or at a cross roads and wondered “How did I get here?” And not in a good way! You had these plans, these dreams, these expectations. But nothing in your life looks like you thought it would.

Maybe you drifted. Maybe you took a short cut, lowered a standards, or took your eyes off the path and that changed your course. Maybe you got distracted. That temporary move, temporary job, “short season” of something has become your permanent location. Maybe circumstances outside your control have left you in a place you never intended to be. No matter how you got here, you can find your way back. The person you were once upon a time is still there. And Chrystal Evans Hurst wants to help you find her.

She’s Still There – Review


While this book is targeted to women in the title and in many of the examples, this really works for anyone. The book is broken into 6 sections with multiple chapters. Each chapter has reflection questions and Bible verses to go through. There are practical applications for every point from doing an assessment of your gifts and skills to ways of setting small goals to help you stay on track.

I read the book as part of a study with Proverbs 31. This included videos and Bible study ideas and conference calls. And all of that “bonus” content was great. But the foundation is the book, and it is all you really need to take a long look at your life and your current direction.

I found the book both challenging and encouraging. The writing is approachable. There’s a “me too” feel where the author shares from her own journey. She’s not perfect or an expert. She’s lived this and coaches from her place a few steps ahead of you. Great for personal study or for group study. I highly recommend this.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

 

The Wellness Revelation – Summary


The subtitle for this book is “Lose what weighs you down so you can love God, yourself and others.” For a diet/health/fitness book, this has a HUGE faith component.

There are 8 sections of the book, designed to lead the reader on an 8-week journey. Each chapter has five components, easily broken down for weekday usage if you choose. The first two sections include a chunk of information and encouragement and often an action step or two. There’s a set of Bible study questions in another section, reflection questions in the fourth, and a final “testimony” piece at the end.

The journey is intentionally slow paced. It doesn’t address much with food until week 3, and the exercise kicks in in week 4. This is by design. The author spends two weeks setting a spiritual foundation, encouraging readers to approach food and movement from healthy places. And she reinforces this message in each workout, podcast and Facebook Live posting.

The Wellness Revelation – Review


I loved this whole process from the beginning. I loved the faith pieces that are part of every breath of the program. I read the book as part of an online course through Facebook, and every leader online encouraged participants to seek the Lord and follow His leading on food, on movement, on pacing and on how our past influences our present.

There’s enough material in the book and online (workouts, podcasts, etc) to make this process a full time job. I had to choose to be content to do what I could, to emphasize the parts that were encouraging to me and be okay when I couldn’t keep up with it all. I’ve become a fan of their online workouts at RevWellTV (available for a monthly fee) – there are different types of workouts, different instructors, and different skill/intensity levels. Something for everyone.

If you feel like now is the time to invest in your health, I can’t recommend this book and the people behind it highly enough.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

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Aliens Abroad

REVIEW: Aliens Abroad by Gini Koch

Summary


The Distant Voyager is the first manned long-range spacecraft for Earth. And it’s about to leave on its first mission. Kitty and the gang are there for a tour and Jeff’s big speech before the launch.

Unexpectedly (although, par for the course in Kitty’s life), the ship takes off early with Jeff, half of the Presidential Cabinet, Kitty, their kids, and a good portion of their extended family on board. The ship’s AI is uncooperative at best, there are signs of sabotage, and no one on board seems to be able to control their course – or change it.

Whoever is controlling things knows Kitty – the “Warrior Queen” – is a protector. If she can help a person – or a planet – in need, she will. And there are several races in dire need of rescuing. So while she might have been a reluctant participant at first, Kitty is on board for saving the day. Because if Kitty can’t help, the whole galaxy might not survive.

Review


Wow! This was so fun! First of all, this is my favorite book series for adults. So any addition to the series, any book with these characters, is going to be one I am eagerly anticipating. Second, most of the book takes place in previously unknown parts of the galaxy. There are tons of new alien species and planets and galactic politics to explore. Third, there are at least four major events in the book. Reading this felt like binge watching a favorite show or binge reading a favorite book series all in one sitting. I got through the first event and still had hundreds of pages to go! I waited for this book for a long time. The wait was completely worthwhile.

Most of my favorite characters were along for the ride on this trip, so I enjoyed the little tidbits added to their stories. Continuing one of my favorite things from Alien Education, the kids play an important role in this book. In fact, the chapters where their role is really expanded I read twice. There’s a nice balance between the expected interplay and relationships from the series and all the new characters. In fact, to me the book felt weighted toward the new characters and events which gave this a fresh feel. I feel like this book and the next (Aliens Like Us) are going to have the same “interlude” feel that Universal Alien and Alien Separation did earlier in the series. It will advance the characters and the big picture, but it will keep the series from feeling like it is following a pattern.

Kudos to Gini Koch for this fast, fun, and fresh addition to the series. It’s everything I have come to expect from her in the last 6 years since I discovered the series. Many thanks to Netgalley and the folks at DAW (Penguin/Random House) for the opportunity to review an electronic review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My personal copy will be arriving any time now so I can start a re-read right away. Goodreads shows at least 4 more books coming in the series; I have all of them on my wish list and have pre-ordered Aliens Like Us so I don’t miss a moment of the action. If you love science fiction (with a little steamy romance thrown in ), I think you should follow my lead. If this is a new series to you, start with book one, Touched by an Alien, and carve out some serious reading time. This is a series you don’t want to miss.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Ban this Book

REVIEW: Ban this Book by Alan Gratz

Summary


Amy Anne is a quiet girl. A reader. She’s bright and articulate, but people don’t always know that. Amy Anne has a comeback and a response for everything that happens around her – from obnoxious sisters, to unfair expectations at home, to things that happen at school. But Amy Anne keeps all those thoughts on the inside.

When Amy’s favorite book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is removed from the school library by Mrs. Spencer, an overzealous parent, and an acquiescing school board, Amy Anne has a lot to say. She even prepares a speech for the school board. But when it comes time for her to speak, Amy Anne keeps her seat, keeps her speech, and keeps quiet.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Spencer isn’t done “protecting students” from the books in the library. So Amy Anne gets an idea. She’ll start her own library and run it out of her locker. And she’ll stock as many of the banned books as she can get her hands on!

Review


This is a fantastic book! I loved Amy Anne from the first page! I longed to speak up for her and rescue her, but it’s so much more satisfying to watch her find her own voice along the way.

There are three main things going on in this story. First,  this is a love letter to the power of books. Books can teach us about things we don’t know, they can entertain us, and they can help us understand ourselves and others. There’s a guest appearance by author Dav Pilkey that is terrific.

Another big piece is the free speech/censorship issue the school goes through. The author does a great job of helping Amy Anne see the “villain” as more than a book-hating monster. It’s fantastic.

Finally this is the story of Amy Anne finding her voice. Her thoughts and feelings about things around her are often right on target. But she doesn’t say them so nothing can change. The evolution of THIS part of the story was my favorite.

I highly recommend this book to parents and librarians and teachers. This would be fantastic to read aloud with a class or for a kid’s book club. There are questions in the back for discussion or writing as well as common core standards references for teachers.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Loser's Club

REVIEW: The Loser’s Club by Andrew Clements

Summary


Alec is a reader. He loves getting lost in a story. He reads his favorite books over and over – and he has LOTS of favorites! You would think that Alec’s teachers would love Alec’s affinity for books.

They don’t.

Alec tends to read all the time and everywhere. Including in the middle of class. Like when he’s supposed to be doing an art project or listening to the teacher’s lesson. So Alec is in trouble at school. For reading. If he wants out of trouble, he has to pay attention all the time in every class.

Fortunately, Alec goes to an after school program every day for 3 hours. This is a perfect block of time for reading. But he has to choose an activity from an approved list. Reading alone is not one of them. So Alec starts a reading club. Not a book club to talk about books but a club for reading. For sitting quietly, all afternoon, to read. Alec figures if he calls it the Loser’s Club, kids won’t want to join. Because lots of kids usually means lots of noise and distractions. SO, if he can find one other reader to join his Loser’s Club, he’ll have his after school reading sanctuary. But who would want to join “the Loser’s Club?”

Review


I adored this book. The last few Clements books haven’t clicked for me like my old favorites – Frindle, No Talking, The Last Holiday Concert, etc. But this one fits in perfectly with those older treasures.

Alec is a fantastic character. His description of comfort books could have been written by me (actually, all of chapter 7 is delightful). I loved him as a young man trying to navigate middle school, and I loved him as a reader.

The family Star Wars obsession was icing on the cake for me. SO many fun moments in the story centered around that. Alec’s own “Jedi mind trick” was outstanding fun.

While this is primarily about books and reading, it is also about friendship, dealing with bullies, responsibilities at school, growing up and dealing with reality outside of your favorite fiction. For me, this book was perfect. I highly recommend this for a family purchase, a library purchase and for all middle grade classrooms!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Prince in Disguise

REVIEW: Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Summary


It’s hard for Dylan to live in her sister, Dusty’s, shadow. Dusty is tall and gorgeous and popular and confident. She was Miss Mississippi. And now she is marrying Ronan, a Scottish lord-to-be that she met on the Bachelor-style reality show Prince in Disguise. Next to Dusty, Dylan feels geeky and awkward and out of place.

This is especially true when she finds herself at Ronan’s Scottish castle for their Christmas Eve wedding. First, the best man leaves her standing in the cold for almost an hour, waiting for a ride to the castle. She’s rescued by another groomsman, Jamie. At least he’s her age, smart and funny. But at the castle, she feels the cameras all around her. Dusty may be fine with all the TV attention, but Dylan wants no part of it.

The wedding-prep days include a lot of surprises for Dylan – things she’d like to keep off camera and to herself. Not the least of which are her feelings about Jamie. But she may find there are more important things than protecting her own privacy.

Review


I’m not sure I have words big enough for how much I loved this book! It was outstanding! I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book like I did this one. It’s SO funny! It’s romantic. Sweet and fun and fiesty! I wanted it to go on and on. I loved the characters and wanted to spend even more time with them. This will definitely be a re-read for me! If the author decides to write a sequel, I will be the first in line to buy it!

Everything worked for me in this. The reality TV plot was terrific. It forced characters to decide what was for public consumption and what wasn’t. And how they would handle the difference. The family relationships changed and developed in the story in great, realistic ways. The chemistry between Dylan and Jamie was endearing. I loved them together. There were some fun surprises and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. This could easily be my favorite book of 2017.

Many, many thanks to Netgalley and Disney Hyperion for the opportunity to read an electronic review copy of this spectacular book in exchange for an honest review. I honestly adored it. I read another book by Stephanie Kate Strohm earlier this year – It’s Not Me, It’s You– and I loved it too. That book made it onto my Holiday Hint List for 2017 – and if I had read this before I published the list, Prince in Disguise would have been on there, too.  Hand both of these books to the teens in your life – especially the ones who might not want books with the language and mature content found in some other books for teens and young adults.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥+++

Twelve Slays of Christmas

REVIEWS: 2017 Christmas Books

I had something else scheduled for review today, but it didn’t work out, so I am going to plug in a few short reviews of some of the 2017 Christmas books I have been able to read this season. I hope you will find something here you like!

How the Finch Stole Christmas – The Christmas production of A Christmas Carol is headed off the rails thanks to a diva-level actor with a drinking problem. A dead body is not exactly what Meg and friends need on top of the production stress! This is book 22 in the Meg Langslow series, one of my favorite cozy series. I love that no matter how many books there are in the series, the stories and the characters stay strong and enjoyable. The mystery in this one was great. And Meg is one of my favorite protagonists of all time. Rating: ♥♥♥♥

 

Merry and Bright – The latest from Debbie Macomber focuses on a young woman whose family sets her up for an online dating service. Her best match turns out to the be last person she wanted it to be.  I really enjoyed this one! The plot is pretty simple and You’ve Got Mail-esque, but the characters are fantastic and really made this a fun holiday read.  This would make a darling Hallmark Christmas movie. Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

 

 

Holly and Ivy – A lonely widow meets a young girl with a great gift in this holiday story. For me, this story suffered from an unsympathetic character right from the beginning. I almost gave up on finishing this one. I pressed through the unpleasant character and things finally started to turn around about half-way through. The ending was great and made me glad I kept with it. Rating: ♥♥♥

 

 

Twelve Slays of Christmas – The first book in a Christmas Tree farm mystery series. A young woman heads home to Mistletoe, Maine after her Christmas Eve wedding is cancelled. Maybe some time at home, celebrating the holiday with family on the farm will be just what she needs. She certainly does NOT need a dead body or for her family and friends to be suspected murderers. This was a delight from start to finish! The setting was perfect – I loved the holiday activities the family does around the farm for Christmas. The characters were a lot of fun – the “voice” was great and there was humor and romance as well as a solid mystery. This is a series I will be following faithfully! Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

 

Sugar Pine Trail – A librarian finds herself taking care of two young boys at Christmas time. And her handsome neighbor pitches in. This is the 7th book in the Haven Point series, but I’m not sure the books are necessarily interconnected, except for the setting. This was so fantastic, though, I have added the rest of the series to my library wish list so I can check out all the rest of the books. The characters in this were spectacular. I loved the foster care angle, and the author did a great job of portraying that pretty realistically. The love story was terrific. Great romance to put you in the holiday spirit. Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Walking With Miss Millie

REVIEW: Walking with Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy

Summary


Alice does not want to be in Rainbow, Georgia. She wants to go home to Columbus, Ohio. How will her dad, who “hates” Rainbow, ever come back to them if they aren’t there?

But Alice’s grandmother is having memory issues. She needs help, so Alice and her mom and brother are in Rainbow for the foreseeable future.

Georgia in June, 1968, means hot and humid weather, “party” phone lines and racial tension. When Alice accidentally eavesdrops on her grandmother’s neighbor, Miss Millie, on the party line, she has to go apologize. That leads to daily walks with Miss Millie and her dog, Clarence. What starts as a burden becomes something Alice looks forward to as she gets to know their elderly African-American neighbor. And their talks help Alice learn some things about herself along the way.

Review


This story was perfection. The heart was present from page one. Alice is an earnest, thoughtful character. Like any good 10-year-old, she jumps to conclusions about folks at times, but she’s also teachable and honest. Miss Millie is wise. And the author does a terrific job of “showing” rather than telling how Miss Millie feels and what she thinks but doesn’t say. The entire cast of characters is fantastic, and I quickly fell in love with them.

The story centers on Alice and the move to Rainbow as well as what that move means to her relationship with her absent father. But it’s also about the evolution of race relations from the late 1800s to 1968. It’s about family and loss and faith. I cried several times in the story as the emotional pieces are pitched perfectly for the characters. I can’t recommend this highly enough!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Not Now Not Ever

REVIEW: Not Now, Not Ever by Lily Anderson

Summary


Elliot Lawrence Gabaroche is expected to go to either the Air Force Academy (like the Lawrence part of the family) or go into Law like her dad (which means attending a summer mock trial camp).

But “Ever” Lawrence has been accepted to Camp Onward, a camp for genius students where she hopes to win a scholarship to Rayevich College so she can join their science fiction literature program.

While everyone thinks Ellie is doing what THEY want her to do, she hops a train to Oregon as Ever to pursue her own plans for the future.

Ever doesn’t count on her annoying cousin, Isaiah, showing up at the same camp. They have to pretend to be twins so no one at the camp catches on to their secrets – her real name, his real age, and the fact that neither set of parents knows where they are. If their parents find out, both kids will lose their chance at the scholarship and setting their own course for the future. Ever also doesn’t count on meeting a great guy, making terrific friends, or stumbling into a mystery.

Review


This was excellent! The voice was outstanding. Ever is smart and sharp and so funny. I was truly sad when the book ended and there was no more Ever.

This is the second book published by the author, Lily Anderson, and I have loved both of them. The writing is fantastic. Lots of great voice and terrific humor. Anderson is an author I will put on a “must buy” list because I really enjoy her style.

The cast of characters is quirky and fun. The interplay between the kids on Ever’s team was a hoot. There were lots of great geeky moments. I kept reading passages aloud to my family because I was enjoying the book so much. The scene where the team gets together for the first time, and the counselors give them a taste of what is to come, is one of my favorites.

I loved Ever’s quest for her own path while feeling pressure and expectations from her whole family. The camp scholarship contest was a great plot – it brought interesting characters together and threw in some nice twists and a little mystery. Everything clicked perfectly for me in this book. (Some language)

Many, many thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press/Wednesday Books for an electronic review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Reading this book was a delight!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Well That Was Awkward

REVIEW: Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail

Summary


Gracie is a fairly typical 8th grader. She has a couple best friends and a larger circle of kids she hangs out with. Her parents are mostly okay, except they are overprotective. She can’t really go anywhere alone, she’s not allowed to have a pet, and she doesn’t feel like she can show anyone her true feelings. She’s smart, a reader, and she cares about charity, raising money for turtle rescues and book charities.

But things start to change in 8th grade. Gracie starts wondering about her parents and how they survived what happened to her sister. And she wonders what her role is in her family in light of her sister. Then there are the crushes. Gracie finds herself in a Cyrano DeBergerac-like role between her best friend Sienna and Gracie’s own maybe-crush AJ. And, in typical middle school fashion, there’s a stuck up mean girl and plenty of questions and doubts about physical traits and identity. When all of those pieces collide – family, friends, crushes, and mean girls, Gracie may find herself standing alone.

Review


I ADORED this! When I tried to summarize it, I realized how much is going on in this story! It’s hard to put it all together and keep it concise. But in the reading, it all hangs together perfectly!

Gracie tells the story in first person, so you get her stream-of-consciousness thinking, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Her “voice” is excellent! It has a funny, fast pace to it that really clicked for me. If this book existed when I was a teen, I would have read it over and over until it fell apart. I would have completely identified with Gracie.

I enjoyed the whole ensemble in this story. The development between Gracie and her parents is lovely and touching. I liked the evolution in the group of girls around Gracie, watching them wrestle with growing up and identity. And her other best friend, Emmett, is so cool and endearing.

This was an absolute delight! I hugged the book when I finished. I will be recommending this one often and reading it again in the future.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Names They Gave Us

REVIEW: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Summary


For Lucy, the hits just keep on coming. Her boyfriend put their relationship on “pause” for the summer so they can re-evaluate their relationship. Instead of spending the summer hosting church groups at her family’s church camp, Lucy’s mom asks her to counsel at Dayspring. Dayspring is a camp for kids who’ve experienced difficulties in life – teen pregnancy, grief, loss, family issues, and abuse. And Lucy feels like she HAS to do what her mom asks because her mom’s cancer is back. Not knowing what might happen to her mom, how can she say no to a request from her?

Working at Dayspring will give Lucy a chance to grow in ways she can’t even imagine when the summer begins. It’s a safe place to work through her crisis of faith and her feelings about everything happening in her life. And she will find a community she didn’t know she needed.

Review


Stellar. Outstanding. I almost don’t have the adjectives to describe how amazing this story is.

This is not a Christian novel, per se. It’s not published by a Christian publisher. It includes lifestyle pieces that a traditional Christian story wouldn’t address. But there is a DEEP faith core to this story. And it’s about faith in hard times. Where is God when tragedy strikes, when cancer returns? And for me, the faith pieces were right on target – from Lucy’s awkwardness in the face of things she has never encountered before and her earnest desire to be compassionate to the question of “Is it okay to be a Christian and be mad at God?”

Having lived through a similar situation of recurring cancer at a similar age to Lucy’s, I identified with her thoughts and feelings. Her wrestling felt genuine. There’s a scene towards the end with Lucy’s dad that just wrecked me. It was all too familiar – and so authentic. This book left me feeling known and understood.

I think this is an amazing book even if you haven’t faced the same things as Lucy because her story is told so well. There is some mature content in the book (language, teen pregnancy, drinking, sexual identity), so this is a good fit for older teens/young adults and adults. If I could give this more than five stars, I absolutely would. This was fantastic!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥