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Category Archives: Reviews

Book Review–“Praise God with Banners”

I just realized that I’ve referred to this wonderful resource many times, but never actually reviewed it! Since this book has been so helpful to us, I thought others might like to know about it, as well.

Praise God with Banners

As the name suggests, this is part of the Praise God with… series that CPH publishes (other titles include another family favorite, Paper Plates, as well as Paper Cups, Paper Bags, Shapes, and Puppets). The books are meant for classroom or church use (but are also great for home use!), and are reproducible. All of the patterns are meant to be used on a 9×12 piece of felt or construction paper, to create a personal-sized banner, but are easily enlarged for full-sized banners suitable for classrooms.

The majority of the book is dedicated to banners for the church year, but there are a few ideas for Bible banners, as well. Each banner has a basic design, with suggestions for colors of paper or felt for each piece, and also has additional ideas for extra embellishments, from gemstones and sequins to glitter and yarn. There are also suggestions for phrases and Bible verses appropriate to each banner. The back of the book has a full alphabet and numbers that you can reproduce as templates for whatever words you choose to put on the banner…I used these for some of our banners, and printed off my own fonts for others. There is also a brief “Lesson Connection” for each banner.

This is one of the most useful books we have in our homeschool library. We were able to create a full church year’s worth of banners from the designs, and may make a few more specific ones in the future. Some of the banners we made are almost identical to the plans in the book, while others were created using the book as a jumping off point, and then coming up with our own additions. I used some of the phrase suggestions, and came up with some of my own using words from hymns and other Bible verses for some banners. I also combined and/or repurposed some of the suggestions to make exactly what we wanted for some portions of the church year.

I highly recommend this book to teachers and parents. I’d like to think that even if we weren’t homeschoolers, we’d still have made church year banners for our playroom, to make a solid connection between church and home.

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Book Review–“Dressing the Queen”

I mentioned Dressing the Queen: The Jubilee Wardrobe by Angela Kelly a while back, and I’m finally getting around to reviewing it. In short, if you’re a fan of fashion, or Queen Elizabeth II, or history, you’ll love this book!

It’s filled with beautiful pictures of fabrics:

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And jewelry:

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And pictures that show the amazing detail that goes into every aspect of the Queen’s wardrobe:

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There are also sketches created by Angela Kelly:

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And some photos that can only be described as whimsical:

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One of my favorite parts of the book is a picture of the Queen in what can only be described as a “casual” pose…as casual as you can be when you’re Queen, anyway!

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Pictures aside, this book is full of information. You’ll learn what kind of fabrics are used, and during which season, and where the fabrics come from. Some of them are quite old! You’ll learn what the team of dressers actually does, and how they keep track of what the Queen has worn in the past.

There are also sections on hats and accessories, which are fascinating. And the care of the Queen’s wardrobe is also discussed, as is packing it up for a trip, big or small. No book about the Queen’s wardrobe would be complete with a section on her jewelry, and there is a nice representation of the different gemstones she favors in photographs. I was very interested to learn how the jewelry is presented to the Queen every day!

A big section of the book is naturally dedicated to the Diamond Jubilee wardrobe, as the subtitle suggests. Of course, the famous three outfits of the Jubilee weekend are shown, but so are less-known outfits, like the ones worn to the Royal Windsor Horse Show, the Sovereign’s Lunch, and the Royal Ascot. And the Queen’s “Bond Girl” dress from the Opening Ceremonies of the London Olympics is discussed in great detail!

Dressing the Queen is both beautiful and informative. It is practically unheard of for a member of the Queen’s staff to be given permission to write a book about his or her job, which makes this a very special, unique item, with a very unusual perspective. I highly recommend it!

Book Review: The Beauty Book

Thomas Nelson provided me with a copy of The Beauty Book by Nancy Rue, (author of “The Lily Series”), to review. This is a book meant for seven- to eleven-year-old girls, and deals with issues like hair and skin care, make-up, body piercings, tattoos, (?!?), and weight. It’s written in the style of a magazine, with lots of real questions and answers, quizzes, and journaling activities, (called “The Lily Pad”–cute).

I really wanted to like this book. The idea of a book that deals with these issues from a Christian appeals to me as a parent. Unfortunately, I wasn’t happy with the implementation, as the idea falls flat, in my opinion. While it does explore real issues that girls may face, I think that it could also end up putting ideas in girls’ heads, (especially girls on the younger end of the suggested age range). For example, weight…this is something that isn’t even on my seven-year-old’s radar, and while it might be for some, I don’t want to start her thinking that this something she needs to worry about. The same could be said for any of the other issues explored–frizzy hair, bad skin, etc. At such a young age, I don’t think girls need to be told that these are matters of concern, (it’s different if the girl brings it up herself, as a matter of personal concern), and they’re not even issues that every girl will face before the onset of puberty.

The other thing that I really dislike about this book are the “Talking to God About It” sections. I really hate the idea of forced prayer like that for any age, but especially for young children. I really don’t want my chid praying a prayer written by a person I don’t know, for a purpose I don’t really “get.” And the fill-in-the-blank nature of many of the prayers is just annoying…prayer shouldn’t be treated like one of the quizzes in the book, or a test, or anything other than what it is–praying to God.

Maybe this book will work for some families, but certainly not for ours–I can’t recommend it at all.

Book Review: “Eyes of Justice”

Thomas Nelson publishers was kind enough to provide me with a complimentary copy of the newest installment in Lis Wiehl’s “Triple Threat Series”–Eyes of Justice. I’ve been looking forward to reading this book since last spring, when the third book in the series came out. By now, I’ve become very invested in the professional and personal lives of reporter Cassidy, FBI agent Nicole, and federal prosecutor Allison. You can imagine my shock, then, when one of the Triple Threat Club had been murdered by chapter three!

When Nicole and Allison find their friend Cassidy murdered in her own condo, they’re determined to get justice for her. Their first thought is to pin the blame on Cassidy’s abusive ex-boyfriend, cop Rick McEwan. But Cassidy had angered a lot of criminals in the course of her reporting…could one of them have sought revenge? But when the killer starts targeting the rest of the Triple Threat Club, it becomes clear that the motive was bigger than Cassidy’s past relationship or reporting. Can PI Ophelia help Allison and Nicole before it’s too late? Or will the entire Triple Threat Club fall victim to a crazed killer?

I’m curious to see if this series will continue. Obviously, the original Triple Threat Club no longer exists. The author, however, did leave it open for a new Triple Threat Club to form, with a new member, which would allow for the series to continue on. I guess only time will tell, but I’m hopeful, because I really don’t want to say goodbye to Nicole and Allison yet. Like the earlier books in the series, I lovved this one, and I’m looking forward to (hopefully) reading more!

Homeschool Review: Presidential Blocks

I haven’t reviewed any homeschool products for quite some time, mostly because I haven’t found anything new that I’m really excited about. At least I hadn’t until I stumbled across the Uncle Goose Presidential Blocks Set.

I like this for several reasons. First, it’s a great tool for helping children become familiar with our nation’s presidents, even while playing. It’s also a different way of learning, aside from just reading about the presidents…this set gives a lot of basic information, (name, nickname, number of presidency, years served, birth and death dates and locations, and political party, as well as a facial sketch), that children will absorb just by looking at and building and playing with the blocks.

I also like this set because it’s handmade in Michigan with Michigan resources and child-safe inks. Now, I’m not normally a huge “Made in America” type, if only because I realize that most of the stuff I need to buy just isn’t made here. But every once in a while, I find something really cool that is made here, and I want to support that effort and buy it. That explains why I bought this set, even though it was pretty expensive for our homeschool!

Because of the way the blocks sit in the included tray, you can have an overview of the presidents’ names or faces, or, my personal favorite, the American flag. The sixth side of each cube is designed to be a part of the flag, and when the blocks are all placed in the correct order, you can see Old Glory…very cool!

The tray allows the blocks to be laid out in a 9×5 grid. I know what you’re thinking…we’ve only had 44 presidents, so how can there be 45 blocks? The answer is simple, and rather ingenious, I think…there’s an extra block for the Oath of Office, the pledge that the President takes when he is sworn in. It’s not necessary to the set, but a nice little bonus, and a good way to fill the space. The only other thing I could have imagined working with this set would have been a block for the White House, but you just can’t include everything!

I realize that this set will quickly become somewhat obsolete, either this fall, or in four years, when another president is added. It’s worth it to me, though, because this is such a unique, well-made resource, and even when we elect a new president, the other blocks themselves will still remain accurate, and useful for teaching. And Uncle Goose makes other block sets that are equally impressive, including the Periodic Table, Foreign Language Blocks, and even a set that has Braille and American Sign Language!

Book Review: “Waking Hours”

Thomas Nelson was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of the first book in Lis Wiehl’s newest series, (the “East Salem Trilogy”), Waking Hours.

I’ve been a fan of Wiehl’s writing ever since I read the first “Triple Threat” novel a few years ago, so I was hoping for something along those lines. In some ways, I wasn’t disappointed. There is plenty of mystery and suspense in this story, which focuses on the murder of a New York high school student. Was another teenager responsible for her death? It’s up to Dani Harris, a forensic psychiatrist, to solve the case. Reunited with an old high school love interest, there’s a healthy dose of romance thrown in, as well as a mysterious, supernatural bent to this murder, and another crime in town.

In some ways, this reads like a Christian version of Castle, (or the corresponding Nikki Heat books), so you’d think I’d love it. But I’m not a huge fan of supernatural mysteries, so I had a more difficult time getting into this story than you might expect. On the other hand, if you’re a big fan of books like this, (think Frank Peretti), you’ll probably love it. Like the “Triple Threat” books, it’s well-written, has good characters, and will keep you on the edge of your seat!

Book Review: The Carpenter’s Gift

If you haven’t had the chance to read the new children’s Christmas book, The Carpenter’s Gift, by David Rubel, then you’re missing out!

It’s a story, part fact, part fiction, about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. It begins during the Great Depression, with Henry and his father selling Christmas trees in New York City, adjacent to where construction workers are building Rockefeller Center. The construction workers are touched by the family’s story, and by their kindness in leaving a Christmas tree for the workers to enjoy, and so the construction crew repays their generosity by building them a new, warm house, to replace the drafty shack they had been living in.

Henry never forgets their kindness, and plants a pinecone near their new home as a remembrance. As he and the spruce tree grow up, his fortunes improve, and he gets married and has a family of his own. As an old man, living alone, he ends up back at the old family homestead, where he continues to lovingly care for his home. He is faced with a decision when he is approached to donate his grand spruce tree to Rockefeller Center, to be the big Christmas tree for the year. Should he let it go? His decision is made for him, however, when he learns what becomes of the tree at the end of the Christmas season–and that’s where the facts in the story come in. Habitat for Humanity planes the tree, and uses it to build affordable homes for people who might not otherwise be able to have a home of their own.

The fictional part of the story is well-written and touching, and the factual part is eye-opening. I had no idea that the Rockefeller Center tree was used for such purposes after Christmas was over! It’s a great story that gives children an idea of what living through the Great Depression might have been like, as well as encourages a spirit of giving at Christmastime–and all without mentioning Santa once! I think this story will be a family favorite for years to come.

Book Review–“Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy”

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas, is one of the best biographies I’ve had the opportunity to read. I’ve been wanting to learn more about this Lutheran hero, so I was very excited when Thomas Nelson sent me a copy to review. It’s a pretty long book, (over 600 pages), which may seem intimidating, but it’s so well written and fascinating that you can easily forget you’re reading a biography.

I’m familiar with the story of Bonhoeffer’s bravery and sacrifice in World War II, so while I enjoyed reading about that, what I was really interested in, and what this book provided amazingly well, was the story of Bonhoeffer’s early years. What shaped him into the man he would become, a pastor involved in an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Hitler?

I was surprised to find that when Bonhoeffer was growing up, he didn’t have the Christian upbringing I assumed he had. While his mother was a spiritual person, she didn’t think that attending corporate worship services was necessary, and his father wasn’t a believer at all. Bonhoeffer actually feared telling his family of his decision to go into the pastoral ministry, as it wasn’t an “approved” profession to them.

Of course, the more familiar part of Bonhoeffer’s story was also exciting, and went into more detail than I’d previously had the chance to read. It’s a tense, riveting tale, and really makes the reader think about what his or her own actions would be in the same situation.

This book made Bonhoeffer more real to me; helped me understand the decisions he made and the actions he took. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in history, whether the world, military, church, or Lutheran varieties!

Book Review–“Heart of Ice”

Thomas Nelson was kind enough to provide me with a copy of the newest installment in Lis Wiehl’s “Triple Threat” series, Heart of Ice, to read and review. I have been a big fan of this series since I read the first novel two years ago, and this book was the best one yet, the kind of book that you keep reading until the middle of the night, just to find out how it’s going to end!

As far as mystery novels go, this one was a little different, because the reader knows who the villain is right from the start. (She leaves a trail of death and destruction in her wake, leaving Portland wondering at what seem to be random and unrelated crimes.) The triple threat club, on the other hand, doesn’t have a clue, and they’ve unwittingly let the killer get close to them, and to their families.

Elizabeth Avery seems like someone you’d want to get to know–she has a glamorous, albeit mysterious, past, she’s beautiful, she’s fun, and she seems to be exactly what you want her to be. But she’s hiding the fact that she’s really Sissy Hewsom, a woman who won’t let anything get between her and what she wants. A cold-blooded killer at age 13, she’s managed to cover-up her past, but hasn’t changed a bit.

Identity theft and actual theft are just a game to her–and she’s so cold-hearted, she doesn’t even hesitate at the thought of killing an innocent child. She manages to trap unsuspecting people in her web, using them to commit crimes she doesn’t want to dirty her hands with, including arson, several murders, and even setting one man up to “commit suicide” to further hide evidence.

How will the triple threat club ever realize the truth about Elizabeth? Will Cassidy discover it trying to find out the motive behind the murder of her television station intern? Will Allison learn the truth when talking to her deadbeat sister who has come to live with her? Or will Nicole be able to step back from her personal problems long enough to put two and two together, before someone very close to her becomes Elizabeth’s next victim? Who will discover that the beautiful girl-next-door is really a vicious killer with a heart of ice?

Book Review–“Mine is the Night”

I have been anxiously awaiting the sequel to Liz Curtis Higgs’s Here Burns My Candle for the past year. I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy of Mine is the Night from WaterBrook Press, and I couldn’t wait to get started!

As always, Higgs does an excellent job of setting a well-known Bible story (Ruth and Naomi this time) in 18th century Scotland. Her attention to detail, from the dialogue, (written with Scottish inflection), to the clothing, to the setting, to actual Scottish history (the Jacobite uprising) is amazing. You really start to feel as though you are there when reading one of her novels.

Her attention to detail in remaining faithful to the Biblical account is also outstanding. While Biblical fiction is one of my favorite genres of novel, I’m always a little nervous that the author hasn’t done his or her research, or taken too many liberties with the story, or added details that may actually contradict with the Bible. I never have that problem with a Liz Curtis Higgs novel, however! I will say that she has me returning to my Bible over and over again, wondering if “that was really in the story”–even for stories I thought I knew really well. But the answer is always yes–that did happen! I’m not saying that the story of Ruth was actually set in 16th century Scotland, (this is classified as fiction, after all), but when it comes to the important details of the story and the characters, it remains faithful to Scripture, which is a must for me.

I thought this book was a bit stronger than the first of the two-part series. I was able to “get into” the sequel must faster–maybe because I was already familiar with the characters, or maybe because the sequel deals more directly with the Bible story, whereas the first book dealt more with back story that isn’t in the Bible. Overall, I will admit that I still like the “Lowlands of Scotland” series better–while I loved the characterizations of Ruth and Naomi, there was something about the story of Jacob and his family that was so beautiful and moving, I can’t imagine ever liking another book (or books) better.

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