Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Baskets

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I’m fairly certain anyone who knows me or has read either of my blogs knows I love to read and always have. I believe it is important to read with children too. I taught public school for several years before being blessed with my own children, and I routinely read to my students, even as their math teacher. In fact, I spoke at state and national teacher conferences on how to teach math through children’s literature. I love books, and I want others to love them too.

When I was pregnant with our first child, the art teacher at the school where I was teaching gave me a book. At the time, I thought it was odd to receive The Read-Aloud Handbook as a baby shower gift, since I had made it clear that I was planning to quit teaching once our son was born, and I would have an infant too small for read-alouds for several months. Little did I know how much this book would change my thoughts and actions.

During the months after my son was born, I found that reading a book helped keep me awake during those nighttime feedings and helped pass the time during the day. I remember reading Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love during the first few months, and the baby would fall asleep while nursing, so I would just sit and hold him until the next feeding and continue to read. (Oh, the joy and simplicity of the first baby!) At some point, I ran out of other things to read and decided to read The Read-Aloud Handbook. I was intrigued by all of the research Jim Trelease had done–the interviews, the surveys, the long-term studies, personal experiences, the proof that reading makes children smarter and more successful!

I began reading aloud to my son right away, and it didn’t matter whether I was reading an educational book, a mystery, a romance, or a children’s book. He was hearing rich vocabulary, learning the rhythms and nuances of our language, being exposed to a variety of genres.

Jim Trelease suggests using book baskets in the bathroom and at the kitchen table–places kids will spend some time–so I put some board books in a basket and set it on the kitchen table. I began reading to him at the table while feeding him his meals. He loved David Shannon’s Oh, David and wanted to hear it over and over and over again. I soon had it memorized. His first sister was born a couple years later, and I know I read to her before every nap and at bedtime, but I can’t recall if we had a book basket at the kitchen table. Her favorite book was Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, and I had that one memorized as well.

When the twins came along more than four years after big sister, I must confess that I was out of practice for having an infant (let alone two!), and it took me awhile before I began reading to the babies. Big brother was actually the one who began to read board books to his sisters when they were about two months old, and I quickly followed suit.

We moved into our new house when the babies were four months old, and the house was in chaos for a few weeks because I spent most of my time caring for the babies. I kept putting off feeding them cereal, fruits, and vegetables. It was difficult to get them to eat without spitting it out, so I fed them individually for a couple months unless another adult was able to help me. Then they went through a phase (Who am I kidding? They are still in this phase!) where they would refuse to eat unless I entertained them in some way. This brought about a resurgence of our book basket.

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We have several board books in a small basket on the kitchen table, and I read them all to the babies at every feeding. I almost have them all memorized. They really enjoy The Greedy Python by Richard Buckley and Oh, David. We also have a tiny board book of “The Wheels on the Bus”, which I sing while trying to do the motions while holding the book with one hand and a spoon with the other hand. The effort is worth it when they finish their food without tears.

Both of our older two children continue to enjoy being read to, and they also enjoy reading on their own. Big brother is reading above grade level, and little sister is reading sight words and leveled readers in kindergarten. She also loves to read the board books from our book basket to the babies. She has them mostly memorized too.

I don’t share this to toot my own horn. I want to encourage others to read aloud to their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc. because it will greatly benefit those children in the future. My nephew lived in a single-parent, low-income home for several years, which could have resulted in lower grades in school, but his mom and grandparents read aloud to him all the time. Now at ten years old, he reads above grade level and makes excellent grades in all subjects because reading is vital in every area of education. I love this quote from the book:
Reading is the ultimate weapon, destroying ignorance, poverty, and despair before they can destroy us. A nation that doesn’t read much doesn’t know much. A nation that doesn’t know much is more likely to make poor choices in the home, the marketplace, the jury box and the voting booth. And those decisions ultimately affect an entire nation – the literate and the illiterate.

I would encourage every family and every teacher to have a copy of Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook or at least to begin reading aloud to your children, even to your teenagers. The book includes a “giant treasury of great read-aloud books” for all ages in case you are wondering where to start. You can purchase the Kindle version here or a paperback here on Amazon.

Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering

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I have enjoyed reading mysteries since I was a child. I remember checking out all the Nancy Drew books during middle school, and then I discovered Agatha Christie’s classics during high school. Once I married, my in-laws introduced me to contemporary mystery writers, but I was still drawn to my mother-in-law’s leather-bound Agatha Christie collection. The murders in Christie’s books are ingenious and usually involve some element of deception. No matter how many of her stories I have read, I do not believe I have ever solved the crime before her main character. However, I had become accustomed to the faster pace, heightened suspense, and romantic element in the contemporary novels, so it was with great delight that I requested Rules of Murder from Bethany House to read and review, and I was not disappointed.

This first book in the Drew Farthering Mystery series is set in England in the 1930’s among a family of the upperclass with a few Americans involved as well. Drew Farthering is the charming main character, who enjoys reading mysteries and decides to try his own hand at detective work when a murder is discovered on his property. His friend Nick assists in solving the crimes but continually reminds Drew that this mystery is not following the “rules of murder” set forth by Father Knox in his ten commandments for mystery writers.

One of the interesting aspects of this book is the relatively young ages of the main characters. In most contemporary mystery novels, the main characters seem to be in their mid- to late thirties. In Christie’s novels, Miss Marple was in her seventies as I recall, and Hercule Poirot was at least middle aged. Most of the main characters in Rules of Murder are in their twenties, but Drew and Madeline seem rather mature. The introduction of Madeline Parker and her friends provides comedic and romantic elements, as well as a spiritual component. The religious aspect is not overdone, but we are reminded that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

Rules of Murder contains an ingenious plot, and Julianna Deering breaks all the rules with her characters and their deceptions. I would highly recommend this book for any fan of the mystery genre.

Stealing the Preacher (book review)

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This is a delightful story set in a small Texas community in the late 1800’s. A reformed outlaw surprises his daughter with a preacher for her birthday, which sets in motion an interesting chain of events that offers several surprises along the way. I enjoyed the touching way the author portrayed the relationship between a father and his daughter and the way she had the characters deal with the deaths of family members. The characters wrestle with doubt, uncertainty, insecurity, stubbornness, and pride, but we are reminded that God is more powerful than any of these.

This was the first time I had read anything by Karen Witemeyer, but I plan to check out some of her other books, especially Short-Straw Bride, which is the first book in this series. This book packed plenty of humor, romance, and suspense. I look forward to reading others by Witemeyer.

I received this book free from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review. This review is my personal opinion.

Jennifer (Book Review)

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Dee Henderson is one of my favorite authors of Christian fiction, and I have read most of her books. When I learned that she had written a new one and that Jennifer was a prequel to the popular O’Malley series that she wrote several years ago, I couldn’t wait to read it. The O’Malley series focuses on the lives of seven adult siblings who had “adopted” each other by legally changing their last names to O’Malley after growing up together in an orphanage. Jennifer is the youngest of the seven and an integral part of the whole series. Jennifer is a love story that leaves off where book one in the series begins. Even though I knew how this book would end, I enjoyed reading this tender love story between Jennifer and Tom and learning how Jennifer developed a relationship with Jesus. This smaller, gift-sized book (154 pages) made for a light and quick read, which is perfect for summertime. The story is touching, moves quickly, and yet touches on difficult questions about faith and dealing with pain.

If you have never read the O’Malley series, this book will leave you hanging at the end. The author’s note at the end informs you that Jennifer’s story continues in the first book of the O’Malley series. While I loved the series and didn’t want it to end because I was so interested in the characters’ lives, I was eager to finish the series to find out how Jennifer’s story played out. If you are looking for a quick, light read but haven’t read the series, this book is probably not for you. I HAVE read the series, and Jennifer still left me wanting to read all of the books again! On the other hand, if you have read the series, you will enjoy this glimpse into the previous lives of two of the characters from the series. If you are looking for some new books to read, I would highly recommend beginning with the prequels Danger in the Shadows and Jennifer, then reading all six of the O’Malley books, and finishing up with Full Disclosure, in which we meet up again with some of the O’Malleys.

Bethany House Publishers sent me this book free upon my request and agreement to post a review (positive or negative) on my blog and on a retailer’s site. This review is my personal opinion and has not been influenced by the publisher.

Book reviews

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Several months ago, I learned about book review programs, where publishers will send you new books to read and review on your blog and another site like Amazon. I love to read, and I love to get free stuff, so I signed up with Bethany House and reviewed a few books on my previous blog. I found a new favorite author (Kristen Heitzmann) through this program and discovered that my children and I enjoy listening to dramatized audio books in the car. If you are interested in becoming a book reviewer for Bethany House, click here. For other publishers, you can simply Google the publisher’s name with the words “book reviewer”. I received a new book in the mail yesterday, so I’ll be posting a review soon. I’m looking forward to telling you about this book!