Friday, December 30, 2016

Children's Book Review: Brave Little Finn By John and Jennifer Churchman

Sweet Pea & Friends

By: John and Jennifer Churchman

Published: October 4, 2016

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers


In October, I reviewed the first book by the Churchman's titled THE SHEEPOVER. I adored this sweet story of friendship and the amazing photography on each page. To see my review, click HERE. I gave the first book to my great-niece for her birthday and was able to read it to her and both of us just loved reading and looking at the pictures over and over again.

John and Jennifer Churchman live on a farm in Vermont and base their stories on the animals living on their farm. The photography is magical and gorgeous and the stories are perfect for young children.

This story is based on Finn, a lamb that was born on their farm in the middle of winter on a very cold night. Their mother didn't have enough milk for both Finn and his twin sister, Hayzel, so they needed extra care. Except, Finn, needed even more care and was very sick. The Churchmans were not even sure Finn would make it. But after spending several months being cared for in the farmhouse, Finn was finally strong enough to go outside. But, everything on the farm was new to him and scared him. So, his fellow farm friends showed him how not to be afraid of the new things on the farm like lilacs (they were good to eat) and hummingbirds and even spiders. Through the story, we are able to watch Finn grow up over the course of a year on the farm. We watch Finn get stronger and explore the farm during the spring, summer, and fall. Children will feel excited for Finn right along with him as he conquers his last fear while everyone cheers him on.

Finn is an adorable little lamb and children will love reading his story over and over again. You can also follow along with the Churchman farm animals by checking out their website,

John Churchman 

Jennifer Churchman
John and Jennifer combine their talents to give voice to the stories of all the animals who surround them and add boundless enjoyment to their lives. They have made their home on a small farm in the beautiful countryside, of Essex, Vermont, with their daughter Gabrielle. Be sure to visit them online and follow the real adventures of Finn and all his animals friends at

To purchase a copy of BRAVE LITTLE FINN, click the photo below:

I will be linking up this review with Booking Mama's Kid Konnection. Every Saturday, Booking Mama offers bloggers an opportunity to share posts related to YA and children's books. To see all the posts, click HERE

If you choose to purchase the books through the above links, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase. Thanks for supporting 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

On this day....

And suddenly 
there was with the angel 
a multitude of the heavenly host 
praising God, and saying, 
Glory to God in the highest, 
and on earth peace, 
good will toward men.
Luke 2:13-14 KJV

May you be able to enjoy time with those whom you love today. 
May there be joy and laughter during your celebrations. 
Most importantly, 
may you remember the Christ child
who came to earth on this day
and the miracle of his saving grace for each one of us. 
Merry Christmas to each one of you. 
May 2017 be a year that you can share good will with everyone you meet.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Children's Book Review: Footloose By Kenny Loggins


By: Kenny Loggins

Illustrated by: Tim Bowers

Published: October 11, 2016

Publisher: MoonDance Press


Growing up in the 80's, I was a huge fan of Footloose. I have watched it countless times, made my kids watch it and can quote most of the movie. When I heard Kenny Loggins was putting out a children's book based on the song, I knew I had to get it.

The zoo is getting ready to close up for the day. There is a full moon which means the animals are planning some fun at the zoo after it closes. The animals watch to make sure everyone is gone and then they begin to let loose. Your child may notice two children peeking between the bushes who didn't leave like they should have. They are treated to quite the show during the animals dance party.

Kenny Loggins uses his and Dean Pitchford's well-known lyrics and changes them up a bit to fit the animals at the zoo. Kids will love the silly antics of the animals and parents won't be able to resist singing the words to the tune of "Footloose".  Also on each page, you can help your child find the boy and girl hiding and watching all the fun. Eventually, the two children won't be able to resist and will join the dance party as well.

You can't help but be happy while reading this book. Between the lyrics and the awesome illustrations, this book is sure to put anyone reading it into a great mood. You may not want to read this one at bedtime though as it will make you want to get up and dance. I love all the creative ways Loggins used to make his lyrics rhyme with the different animals. He wrote this to celebrate the love of his song with his new granddaughter. I'm sure it has been a joy for him to share this fun book with her! There is also a CD that comes with the book featuring this version of the "Footloose" song and "Monkeytown Medley".

Kenny Loggins - source

Kenny Loggins has sold more than 25 million abums worldwide, has won two Grammy Awards, and co-wrote the book THE UNIMAGINABLE LIFE: Lessons Learned on the Path of Love. He has had hit songs over the past four decades. In addition to his string of successful recordings, both solo and as a member of the famed duo Loggins and Messina, Kenny became the first major rock star to dedicate himself to recording music for children and families. His album Return to Pooh Corner remains the best-selling children's album of the last twenty years. Kenny Loggins currently resides in Santa Barbara, CA. For more information on Kenny Loggins, check out his website, HERE.

Tim Bowers - source

Tim Bowers has illustrated more than thirty-five children's books including the New York Times best seller DREAM BIG, LITTLE PIG! although Tim Grew up around unusual pets, including his grandparents' squirrel monkey and a singing African grey parrot, he never had pets that would dance. But he definitely wanted them to. He and his wife live in Granville, OH. To see all his books, click HERE.

To purchase a copy of FOOTLOOSE, click the photo below:

I will be linking up this review on Booking Mama's regular Saturday feature, Kid Konnection. This is a place for bloggers to share posts related to children's and YA books. You will find spotlights, reviews, and even giveaways by clicking HERE, every Saturday.

 If you choose to purchase this book through the above link, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase. Thanks for supporting 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book Review: Bedlam's Door by Mark Rubinstein, MD

True Tales of Madness and Hope

By: Mark Rubinstein

Published: September 1, 2016

Publisher: Thunder Lake Press

Non-Fiction/Medical Memoir

I often find medical non-fiction interesting and really enjoy reading true stories of medical anomalies or stories where patients overcame medical struggles. In BEDLAM'S DOOR, stories of mental illness are told through the eyes of a psychiatrist. Rubinstein shares patients he met while working in a hospital, often meeting the patient as they arrive in the ER via their own admission, through the police, or admitted by concerned family members.

In these true stories, patients are dealing with a myriad of mental psychosis including depression, OCD, and PTSD to name a few. Many of them were living their every day life until something happened to change that chemical balance in their lives. Whether it was a traumatic event, unforeseen stressor, or long buried illness, these patients hit a breaking point and were unable to continue to manage their symptoms on their own.

Even though Rubinstein only sees them at the beginning stages of their admission, he is able to give an update through checking in with co-workers and following the case at least until discharge in most cases. The stories are short, with each chapter featuring a new patient. He offers a bit of background and a review of their initial conversation upon admission. These case studies give readers an understanding of how out of control the disease of mental illness can be and how scary it can be for both the patient and for their family.

I can see those who may know someone suffering from mental illness would find these stories comforting and yet fascinating. In nearly all of these cases, the inpatient and outpatient treatment helped them move forward in their lives and get past the issues that brought the mental illness to the surface.

CBS News recently ran a story on Rubinstein and his new book. Click HERE to see the article.

Mark Rubinstein, MD
Mark Rubinstein MD was born in Brooklyn, New York. He dreamed of playing baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers since his all-time hero was the Dodgers' first baseman Gil Hodges. Rubinstein played high school baseball and ran track. His love of sports led him to read sports fiction, and soon he became a voracious reader, developing an enduring love for all kinds of novels. 

He graduated from New York University with a degree in business administration. He then served in the army and ended up as a field medic tending to paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division. He was so taken with these experiences that after his discharge, he re-entered NYU as a premed student.

He entered medical school at the State University of New York's Downstate Medical Center. As a medical student, he developed an interest in psychiatry, discovering in that specialty the same thing he realized in reading fiction: every patient has a compelling story to tell. He became a board-certified psychiatrist practicing in New York City.

In addition to running his private practice, he developed an interest in forensic psychiatry because the drama and conflict of the cases and courtrooms tapped into his personality style. He also taught psychiatric residents, interns, psychologists, and social workers at New York Presbyterian Hospital and became a clinical assistant professor at Cornell University's medical school. 

Before turning to fiction, Rubinstein coauthored five medical self-help books: The First Encounter: The Beginnings in Psychotherapy (Jason Aronson); The Complete Book of Cosmetic Facial Surgery (Simon and Schuster); New Choices: the Latest Options in Treating Breast Cancer (Dodd Mead); Heartplan: A Complete Program for Total Fitness of Heart & Mind (McGraw-Hill), and The Growing Years: A Guide to Your Child's Emotional Development from Birth to Adolescence (Atheneum).

Rubinstein's high-octane thriller Mad Dog House was a finalist for the 2012 ForeWord Book Of The Year Award for suspense/thriller novels. His 2nd thriller, Love Gone Mad, was published in September 2013 and his novella, The Foot Soldier (November 2013) won the Silver award in the 2014 Benjamin Franklin Awards competition, in the Popular Fiction category. His novel Mad Dog Justice (September 2014), tagged as a "pulse-pounding tale of post-modern paranoia," is a finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year Award. His novella, Return to Sandara, (October 2014), won the gold IPPY Award for Suspense/Fiction. His latest novel, The Lovers' Tango, published in June 2015, has won the Gold Medal in Popular Fiction for this year’s Benjamin Franklin Award.

To purchase a copy of BEDLAM'S DOOR, click the photo below:

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. If you choose to purchase this book through the above link, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase. Thanks for supporting 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Children's Book Review: Tales from the Arabian Nights By Donna Jo Napoli

Stories of Adventure, Magic, Love, and Betrayal

By: Donna Jo Napoli

Illustrated By: Christina Balit

Published: October 25, 2016

Publisher: National Geographic

Fiction/Folk Tales

Does your child love stories full of adventure? Does your daughter dream of being a princess or living in a royal kingdom? This book is full of stories to delight all the imaginations of your children and fill their dreams with visions of genies, kings, and families full of wild tales.

Scheherazade comes up with a way to tell stories to her husband in the hopes of being granted another day of life. Her adventurous stories engage and excite the reader or listener and leave them guessing the conclusion to many of the fables along with maybe learning a few life lessons along the way.

This is quite a large and heavy book, but perfect for night-time storytelling. You can read a story in just a few minutes before bed and your child can savor the tale while drifting off to sleep.

The pages are full of gorgeous illustrations that depict a culture much different from one here in the United States. The clothing is elaborate as is the architecture and the illustrations show the beautiful details on the pages.

One tale that I remembered reading as a child was "The Tale of Ali Baba & the Forty Thieves" . It's full of greed and jealousy. But it also reminds us of the treasure we have and then holding onto it. Each of the stories also has various sidebars that give information related to the culture and current traditions. Some of these stories are a bit gory or have parts you wouldn't want to read to young children. But, older elementary children who love adventure will appreciate the folklore and history tied to these stories.

With 24 stories, this book can last many nights by reading just a story at a time. The back of the book offers a map of the Middle East and a bibliography for those who want to learn more about a particular legend or folk tale.

This would make a wonderful gift for the adventurous child and one that could be passed on for generations.

Donna Jo Napoli - source
Donna Jo Napoli is a linguist and a writer of children's fiction. She is married to a professor of Health Law. Donna Jo has five children and five grandchildren. She dreams of moving to the woods and becoming a naturalist. She loves to garden and bake bread. For more on Napoli, visit her website, HERE. To see all of Napoli's books, click HERE.

Christina Balit is the illustrator of numerous books. See them HERE.

To purchase a copy of TALES FROM THE ARABIAN NIGHTS, click the photo below:

I will be linking up this review on Booking Mama's regular Saturday feature, Kid Konnection. This is a place for bloggers to share posts related to children's and YA books. You will find spotlights, reviews, and even giveaways by clicking HERE, every Saturday.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. If you choose to purchase this book through the above link, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase. Thanks for supporting 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

#BringHappyHome with Jessie Steele and a Recipe

I absolutely love to bake, but it seems I never get to do it as much as I want because I don't have the time. Holiday baking is my favorite because I love taking some of our favorite treats to all our family gatherings.

This weekend I hosted the high school Madrigal singers after one of their performances and so I wanted to make a lot of cookies for them. So, as soon as I arrived home from church on Sunday, I got right to work. 

Jessie Steele (featured in Sex and the City 2 and in many live-casts from Magnolia's Bakeries) is wanting people to get back to bringing families together over the holidays through family meals and sharing goodies. Jessie Steele is the market leader in fashionable aprons by focusing on celebrations, femininity, style, and happiness. Her aprons, bags, totes, and kitchen textiles would make the perfect gift this holiday season! She offers aprons for adults as well as children like this cute Gingerbread Man Apron

I received this fun Paris Print Apron to wear during my holiday baking this season and I just love it. It's light and is fun to wear. I love the ruffles and the bow that set it off. This particular pattern has mini Eiffel Towers all over the apron. I can pretend I'm baking in Paris, right? What I like about this apron is that it is a heavier fabric, but NOT heavy. Does that make sense? I have another apron that I used to wear all the time but it is heavy. After wearing it for a couple hours, my neck gets sore from the weight around my neck. I wore this Jessie Steele apron for 4 hours and never even noticed. 

When I am starting a baking marathon, I love getting everything out at once so I am not constantly going to the fridge or cabinets to get an item out again. I can't imagine baking without my KitchenAid Mixer. It is a necessary item for marathon baking!

The first recipe I knew I wanted to make are my Grandma Hazel's Spritz Cookies. They are a requirement at our family Christmas. Grandma Hazel is my mom's mom and she would have been 100 this year, but sadly passed away when my mom was just 17. But, mom always told me that she would make these every year for Christmas and I want to do the same. They are a delicate cookie that is bite size and gives just a bit of sweetness. The other fun part is you can change up the flavors so easily and really have fun with it.

You do need a cookie press for this recipe. I use this one from Pampered Chef, but you could also try THIS ONE from Kuhn Rikon which is very similar.

Your cookie press will come with various plates to insert that will create different patterns of cookies. My favorites are always the flower, the wreath, and the Christmas tree.

Once you press them onto the pan, you can add sprinkles or sugars before baking. Since they are such a small cookie, they only take a few minutes to bake up. I set my timer for 6 minutes and that was perfect. (Except for the batch I completely forgot about and didn't hear the timer and they were quite burnt!) You can add food coloring to the dough also. I like adding green to the dough when I make the trees.

I also love to make cut-out sugar cookies. I always get compliments on them and even though I am not talented at decorating, they are still delicious. I love using my mother-in-law's cookie cutters when we make our Christmas cookies. She has been in heaven for 10 years this week and we still miss her presence every day.

My secret to making the cut-out sugar cookies is I use the Betty Crocker mix. I know, I know...I should be making them from scratch, but this recipe is so easy and delicious why recreate the wheel. These whip up super fast and I can have sugar cookies in the oven in just minutes. Once they cool I can frost/decorate them up in no time.

Our kids even love to help decorate the cookies so it can really be a fun family time activity. Each child can choose their cookie cutter shape and decorate "their" cookies however they want. My tip for you though is to make sure you bake the same shape of cookies together in one pan. That way the cookies will all bake up at the same rate. For example, candy cane cookies are skinny and bake up quicker than these bell shaped cookies. You don't want your cookies to have brown edges. 

Using my new Christmas plate from my dear friend, Becky makes the holidays even more special. Seeing all the kids in our home having fun and enjoying the cookies made my heart overflow with joy.  If there would happen to be any leftovers, you can place both of these in a container between layers of wax paper and freeze them til your next gathering.  They will stay fresh like you just baked them.

3/4 Cup Butter
1/2 C Sugar
1 Egg
1/2 tsp Almond Extract
2 C Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt

Cream Butter and Sugar until fluffy, beating well. Add egg and extract, then beat until fluffy. Gradually add dry ingredients. Beat well. Put dough into cookie press and press onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Decorate with colored sugars and sprinkles if desired. Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes watching closely. Makes about 3 dozen cookies depending on your chosen shape. 

Additional variations include:
Chocolate Cookies: Add 1 Tbsp cocoa with 1 tsp of water.
Add Peppermint or orange extract for a different flavored cookie

I hope your holidays are full of laughter, the joy of being with family, and delicious food. May you have the merriest of Christmases and a new year full of blessings.

To see all of Jessie Steeles products, check out her website, HERE.

I will be linking up this post on Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking. Every Saturday she offers a place for bloggers to share any kind of food-related posts such as book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. To see all the posts, click HERE

Thanks to SheBlogs and Jessie Steele for sending me this apron and helping to promote #BringHappyHomefortheHolidays. This is my honest opinion. If you choose to purchase a product through some of the above links, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase. Thanks for supporting 

Monday, December 12, 2016

9 Years of Blogging - Some of My Favorite Posts

I can't believe I have been blogging for NINE YEARS. It's like having a child...watching it grow over the years. There have been lots of changes and boy, can I see lots of growth in my writing over the years.

My blog didn't start out as a book blog, but one where I would share snippets from our life, a quote or tip here and there, and maybe a few products or books I liked.

I found I really liked sharing about books and the readers did too, so I did a lot more book blogging. That has taken me so far in the last nine years that I never would have imagined. I get PAID to read and review books. I have had conversations and been praised by best-selling authors. I have met some amazing authors and book bloggers that never would have crossed my path before this blog. Plus, I have been exposed to some awesome books over the course of these nine years that I never would have even thought about reading.

I truly am Living the Dream and I'm so thankful to all of you who read and share my blog posts and reviews. I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite posts over the last nine years. Enjoy!


My very first book review I ever wrote on my blog: THE GROSSE ADVENTURES . At this time I was giving Storytime at our library and our librarian asked me to look over this book as she was considering getting the set for our library. I agreed and then decided to share my thoughts on the blog.

Three days later I shared my review of a book we read for the book club I was in at the time, DOWN RIVER by John Hart. I had already been using pretty regularly by this point so it was natural for me to write my thoughts on a book. Once I placed these first two reviews on my blog back in August 2008, the rest is history. I remember shortly after these reviews, I started receiving requests in my email inbox and books began arriving in my mailbox. I began placing book reviews on my blog pretty consistently after this. Boy, have my review styles changed since 2008.


In September 2008, I attended an author reading and met, William Kent Krueger. I have since met him again and interviewed him. One of the many authors that I absolutely adore. He made me realize that authors are just everyday people and that I could certainly spark a conversation with them.I feel blessed to be able to interview authors and share snippets from their lives with you.

According to my label statistics, I've written 473 book reviews on my blog! That's a lot of books! I have even begun regularly reviewing children's books. I didn't even remember that my very first review on the blog was a children's book until I was writing this post. I'm glad I am making children's books a priority on the blog. It's where the love of reading begins!

 I also had the privilege of offering product reviews on my blog as well. That has been fun as I've had the opportunity to try products I normally wouldn't, but things that our family has benefited from. I haven't been lucky enough to offer a product review of a car or trip, but maybe someday! Some of my favorite product reviews include:

Hask Hair Products
The Beast.

I've also shared a lot about my family on the blog. When I turned 40, I shared photos of our lives every week. I attempted to try that again by sharing Sunday Snippets for a time. But, frankly, life is so busy and it has been hard to share on a regular basis, plus now that I have teenagers, they are more resistant to me sharing about them on this space. But, I am so glad I did, because it has been fun looking back on some of those posts as they pop up when I am looking through previous posts. Some of my favorites about our family include:

Halloween Memories
What We Want You to Know
A Full Weekend
My Mom's Dream Memorial
Dandelions are Useful?
Scenes from Our Week: Week 22

I also love quotes and forms of inspiration and sharing those with you. For awhile I ran quotes and inspirations on Mondays, but I've since just posted them when I feel the nudge. Some of my favorite quotes I shared on here include:

Winter is Dead
Spread Happiness
Life is Hard
Slowing Down

I'm so grateful to all of you who stop by and see what I'm sharing in this space. I appreciate the comments and emails you send to let me know that you are out there. I'm looking forward to a new year full of great books, inspirational moments, and memories that last a lifetime.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Children's Book Review: Rise of the Lioness By Bradley Hague

Restoring A Habitat and its Pride on The Liuwa Plains

By: Bradley Hague

Published: September 13, 2016

Publisher: National Geographic Kids


In a tiny country in Africa where people live in huts, the population of lions was reduced to just one....a female lion appropriately named, Lady. Through war and severe poaching, the ecosystem was damaged with too many predators, not enough prey or land for them to survive. The author documents the fight to save Lady and bring new life to the Liuwa Plains of Zambia.

With the help of scientists, park rangers, and government officials Lady's survival became of the utmost importance. Lady was born to a litter in approximately 2002 and in 2004 photographer Herbert Brauer noticed that she seemed lonely. She would come up to their vehicle and roll around near them on her back (a sign of submissiveness and trust). She would purr and act playful and remain close to their camp. The crew became concerned and noticed that humans were the closest thing to family she had. Brauer made a film titled, "The Last Lioness" which made Lady famous around the world.

In this book, Hauge chronicles the decline of the lion population as well as other species in Western Zambia and how a team took on the task of realigning the ecosystem and giving Lady a family of lions again. It is amazing the dedication this team had for saving a community of people and animals over the course of 12+ years. There were many failures and reasons to give up, but they never did and today, Lady is blessed with a pride of lions to keep her company. The amazing part is how it all came together.

Reading this book reminded me of Saturday mornings during my childhood watching Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom". I always learned so much from Marlin Perkins about animals and their habitats. The show was something I looked forward to every Saturday and I remember often looking up the different animals and countries in our encyclopedias after the show was over. (Now, I'm really dating myself!) Reading this book took me back to my childhood living room couch and I quickly became fascinated with Lady and her story of survival.

I really enjoyed this book. I hadn't heard of Lady before and I learned so much about the country of Zambia and the importance of every piece to the ecosystem. If one part of the cycle falls apart, the whole system collapses. It isn't surprising that the book is also full of fabulous photography of the animals in their environment. It isn't a long book, but it is probably more appropriate for upper elementary to middle school readers due to the vocabulary and length of chapters. There is a glossary of animals and terms at the back of the book as well.

Bradley Hague - source
Bradley Hague has worked as an author and producer with National Geographic for more than ten years. Along with his print work, he has produced, developed, or designed more than 40 hours of television documentaries and series on networks such as National Geographic Channel, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, and the BBC. When not writing about the world around us, he can usually be found in DC with his family.

To purchase a copy of RISE OF THE LIONESS, click the photo below:

I will be linking up this review on Booking Mama's regular Saturday feature, Kid Konnection. This is a place for bloggers to share posts related to children's and YA books. You will find spotlights, reviews, and even giveaways by clicking HERE, every Saturday.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. This review is my honest opinion. I was not compensated in any way for this review. If you choose to purchase the book through the above link, I may receive a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase. Thanks for supporting