The Sparkle Box By Jill Hardie, Illustrated By Christine Kornacki

I cannot even begin to express how wonderful I think this book is, in every way! It is absolutely gorgeous and is destined to become a children’s Christmas classic!
The illustrations are vibrant in color and skillfully done. I liked how realistic they were and some almost appear dimensional. A good story is important (and this is one!) but illustrations can make or break a book where children are concerned.
A young boy named Sam is excited about Christmas, like any other child during the holiday. But this is where the similarity with many other Christmas story ends. The focus is not on “Santa”, or what gifts Sam is going to get. The story centers on caring, doing for others in need, and Jesus.
Sam’s mother puts a beautiful silver box on the mantle. All she will tell him is that it is a special gift called a Sparkle Box. She explains that it must first be filled before it can be opened. Each time he asks, he is told they must put more things in it. Throughout the book, the family is shown giving to those less fortunate. What amazed me was that Sam as a youngster noticed where people were lacking. This is such a great example for children reading the book, as most are about,”me, me, me.”
Christmas morning they open the Sparkle Box. In it are slips of paper and written on each one are the acts of benevolence their family has had been undertaking throughout the holiday. His mother explains that they are their gifts to Jesus in honor of His birthday. Sam was confused as they had given the gifts to people, not Jesus. His mother explains that when we give to others we are giving to Him.
There were so many things I liked about this book. First, Christmas was being celebrated with all the decorations and special traditions, but that was not the emphasis. The focal point was Christ and the less fortunate. It is quite the opposite nowadays as mainly what is highlighted is all the worldly activities and Jesus is pushed aside.
I also liked the fact that Santa wasn’t mentioned once. His image as grown to such proportions that he takes the place of Christ. Not only in celebrating Christmas but sadly in the hearts of children. Little ones love to give and this book introduces them to the idea of how to give gifts to Jesus by helping the needy.
I was surprised and delighted to see in the back of the book was a Sparkle Box to put together! You can start your own family tradition of giving gifts to the One Who gave all to us! A must have for anyone that has children or works with children! It is a book to be treasured through generations!
I received this book free from Ideal Publications. http://www.idealbooks.com I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Advertisements

Look Inside the Time of Jesus By Lois Rock, Illustrated by Lorenzo Orlandi

What a wonderful idea! A book for little ones to learn not only about Jesus, but also what life was like in the times he lived in! I feel it will help them connect Jesus was a real person that lived on earth The book is super sturdy (very important!) and can be wiped clean.
The illustrations were colorful, bright, and well done. I especially liked how detailed they were. There was a lot to look at. I remember as a child how intensely I looked at the pictures, noting every tiny detail that I am sure the grownups missed!
The book covers 8 parts of the Lord’s life from birth to resurrection. The author did a wonderful job getting the information across but keeping it simple. Each section is covered in 2 pages. There is a short paragraph explaining the location and event in Jesus’s life. Additional captions are scattered throughout the pages giving more information and further explaining the illustrations.
Flap books are a big hit with youngsters. It allows them to participate in the reading and it is also great fun! By being involved, they are more likely to remember the stories. Another thing I liked about this book was how many flaps there were. I counted 37! Most books have one on each page and that is never enough for the pint size reader! A book any child would treasure and enjoy! If you buy one be prepared to be asked to read it over and over!
I received this book free from Kregel Publications, which requires an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Trading Secrets By Melody Carlson

This book was soooo good! The characters were witty, clever, and humorous. I couldn’t put it down and read it in 2 days! This was accomplished by staying up till 3:00 a.m. two nights in a row!!! I know many have posted it as a young adult read but I think that is too limiting. Adults young or old would enjoy it.
When she was in the 5th grade, Micah agreed to be a part of a class project and write to an Amish pen pal. The one assigned to her was named Zach. The teacher sent the children’s pictures but due to the Amish beliefs, they were not delivered. With her name, Zach thinks Micah is a boy. She doesn’t want to have their correspondence to end so she doesn’t reveal this secret.
As many years pass and many letters, Zach and Micah become very close. They reveal their deepest thoughts and desires. When her mother dies, Zach is the one that gives her the support she needs.
Fast forward 6 years and many letters. Zach writes Micah telling her is coming to visit. She panics! To her relief he cancels his visit but she is disappointed because she really wants to meet him. She devises a hair brain scheme to go see him and pretend she is a boy!
She pulls it off for a very short time, but overcome by guilt, she ends up doing a dramatic reveal at the family dinner table. The entire family is horrified and Zach is embarrassed and angry. Plans to go home keep falling through and she must stay with the family she has deceived for much longer than she would like! A very awkward situation to say the least! Micah finds that Zach has a few surprises of his own!
Micah not only learns firsthand about the Amish lifestyle but a great deal about herself too. She also has to face the music concerning the damage her deception caused to the lives of others. I found it very interesting to look at Zach’s culture thorough her eyes as a teenager. There wasn’t a dull moment in this story. It was fun, interesting, and very entertaining. I found the plot to be very different than other Amish fictions. It showed the contrast in the English vs. Amish cultures I would not have thought of, and she does it through the perspective of the characters. Melody Carlson is a master writer! You will want to read this book! Be ready for surprises!
I received this book free from Revell Publishers, which requires an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Christmas Cat By Melody Carlson

I like nothing better during the winter holidays to curl up with a good Christmas story. It makes everything extra cozy and special. So much for waiting till December! The precious kitty on the front of the cover drew me into reading it right away!
Garrison Brown had been working in Uganda for the past 9 years digging wells to help the poor. He is forced to return home due to health problems. Not long after he arrives and just 2 weeks before Christmas, he is contacted that his grandmother has passed way. She took him in when his parents died and saw him through his “terrible” teens to adulthood. She meant the world to him.
Upon meeting with the attorney he finds she has left everything to him, including her six cherished cats. The only problem is Garrison is SEVERELY allergic to felines! Before the estate can be settled, he is to find all of them good homes. Which should be easy, except his grandmother left some very eccentric, detailed instructions about what homes they could go to. It was almost as if he was adopting out children! This glitch in the will greatly complicates his duty. Another surprising twist is that each person who takes a cat will receive $10,000, but they cannot know about it until the feline’s homes are finalized. The guidelines seem impossible, but he loved her so much that he will do whatever it takes to carry out her last wishes.
He is forced to stay in the house with his charges, not only to care for them but also carry out his objective of placing them with the right families. With lots of sneezing and allergy medication, he soldiers forward in his task. Through this he becomes familiar with the house he grew up in and his old neighborhood. He meets a beautiful young woman named Cara that has fallen in love one of the cats (the one that Garrison is becoming attached to). She would be a perfect owner but doesn’t qualify according to his Grans conditions. This causes a bit of a wrinkle in the new friendship.
As the story unfolds Garrison is faced with many sticky situations, some very sad and some very humorous. It seems every tactic he tries backfires, yet one by one, in unexpected ways the cats find their forever homes. Instead of hurrying through his task and moving on, Garrison finds himself connecting with his roots, his hometown, and falling in love.
I once again enjoyed Ms. Carlson’s unique storyline and her wonderful sense of humor shown throughout the book. It was very easy to get into the characters and experience their feelings and situations. I could clearly see God working through Garrison’s sweet grandmother’s plans, even after her death. We can run around and try to “fix” things but the Lord always has the best plan. It was also a story of faith in unusual circumstances. I will probably read this book again next year. Hopefully I can wait until December, but this book would be great to read any time of year. Now I want to read all of Ms. Carlson’s Christmas books!
I received this book free from Revell Publishers, which requires an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Grief Jar

After losing my husband last year I have read countless books and been to two grief programs. Each has helped in its own way to move me along this difficult and painful road. Healing from the loss of a loved one is a work in progress. Even into this second year I struggle with my grief. For this reason I was very interested in The Grief Jar. Not only is it unique but I have found it very helpful.
Experts say the unhealthiest detrimental thing to do when grieving is to push it aside and deny it. Healing comes when we face our loss and work through it. The 77 questions in The Grief Jar help you do exactly that in a relaxed, comfortable way. They get right to the heart of situations and feelings concerning your grief.
I and 8 other ladies ages 23 – 61 sat down with the Grief Jar. Each of them having faced different losses: the death of parents, grandparents, pets, and divorce.
The questions were wonderful prompts that helped us all open up. There wasn’t a dry eye in the bunch when we finished and some of their grief was from losses over 20 years ago. Several times there were comments to the effect that they had never thought of a particular aspect before. When we began, I could tell everyone was somewhat apprehensive about opening up on such a personal subject, but time progressed each lady was at ease and conversation flowed.
At the conclusion each said they liked it and they found it beneficial. One suggested that it should be done every 6 months to a year and note progress. That is when we noticed on the back of each card you can record the month and year of each activity! Another lady journals and said these questions would be great to use.
I feel doing this together not only brought us closer but also shared our burdens. I plan to do this with my grandchildren too. Some of them have had trouble talking about their grandfather’s death. The Grief Jar would be great for parents, grandparents, school counselors, grief groups, pastors, and professional counselors! This is an innovative and excellent tool for grief recovery!
Please go to http://www.talkingjars.com to order The Grief Jar and see the many other products and talking jars you can order. You can also find Grief Journals can also to go along with the Grief Jar.

The Daughter’s Walk By Jane Kirkpatrick

I know I have said it before but I will say it again, Jane Kirkpatrick is one of my favorite writers! She finds historical women figures that I have never heard of and their stories are so interesting! I find it incredible the way she weaves the historical facts with fiction to the point that every novel seems like a detailed true account of the person’s life.
A Daughter’s Walk is about a young woman, Clara Etsby and her mother, Helga who in 1896, walked 3,500 miles from Spokane Washington to New York City. They did so in an effort to save their family farm that was about to be foreclosed and earn $10,000; quite a tidy sum back then.
Helga’s accepted the challenge from a wealthy group of sponsors. The purpose was to promote the “new reform” dress which was shorter, showing the ankles and worn without corsets. The new fashion was publicized for busy, active women. Two women walking cross country alone was shocking enough in the Victorian Era, but in such risqué clothing too?! This was exactly the reaction the sponsors wanted. Helga and Clara would be given $5.00 to start out but they must earn the rest of their money along the way to meet their needs. They could accept no rides and they had to be in New York City in 7 months.
Olaf, Helga’s husband and children, including Clara, were totally against the trip. Helga refuses to listen. Her husband is injured and unable to provide for their large family. As Scandinavian immigrants, she cannot bear the thought of losing all they have worked so hard to obtain. Their walk began on May 5 and was end December 13th. Goodbyes were hard, leaving her 8 children and husband behind to care for each other.
Even with Helga’s determination and strong faith in God, she was not prepared for the hardships they would face, or the price the trip would exact when they returned. They were robbed, struggled through rain and snow storms, blistering heat, harsh terrain, and bitter cold. Not to mention facing mountain lions, rattle snakes, hunger, illness and many times no shelter to sleep in. They arrive 2 weeks short of the deadline and lost the wager.
Their story does not end with the walk. Upon their return home they find two of the children have died and their family will never be the same again. They forbid either of them to talk about the trip. In bitterness, Clara’s family rejects her for supporting her mother in her endeavor. She ventures out on her own, with the same determination and courage that gave her mother the strength to make the walk. She is blessed when two rich business women take her under their wing, give her a job, mentor her, educate her, support her, and love her. It is no surprise that in time they become her new family. No matter what her accomplishments or the unconditional love she receives, she always longs to be reunited with her family. From beginning to end this is a story of a woman’s indomitable spirit to overcome tragedy and heartache. The combination of Ms. Kirkpatrick’s meticulous historical research and incredible writing talent make this an unforgettable book! I would like to thank Jane Kirkpatrick for the opportunity and privilege to review this book.
I received this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Here is a link to her web page. I hope you will go and check out her other wonderful books. http://www.jkbooks.com/

Between Heaven and Earth: Finding Hope, Courage, and Passion Through a Fresh Vision of Heaven By Steve Berger

This book was definitely different than what I expected, but in a good way. When a loved one very close to you dies, you find yourself wanting to know even more about Heaven: What is it like? What are they doing? After all it isn’t just a “someday” place anymore because a very important part of you is there now. Pastor Steve Berger experienced these feelings and thoughts, after his teenage son suddenly dies in a tragic accident.
He not only does a beautiful job explaining by means of scripture what Heaven will be like, but what it will not be. I really liked the charts he had with each point and verses where the information is found. He also explains how we need to live our lives right in connection and anticipation of our future home.
As Christians earth is not our real home and all we have here is temporary. Therefore we should not put “all our eggs in one basket” so to speak by only focusing this earthly existence.
The joys and rewards in Heaven are what we look forward to but Pastor Berger clearly shows God has a purpose and work for us to do until we are called Home. We need to share Christ and offer others the opportunity and gift we have in spending eternity with God. The old saying comes to mind: ”Don’t be so heavenly minded that you aren’t any earthly good!”
You will not only learn the many challenges and struggles you will face in doing your work here but also the solutions based on the Bible. The author reassures you that you are not left to your own devices to soldier on, but reminds us the Lord left us a great helper in the Holy Spirit. He explains our relationship with Him and the power we are given through Him.
Yes, we miss our loved ones that are gone, but the promise of seeing them again and being busy for the Lord here can bring great fulfillment and joy while we wait!
This was such a well-written and informative book. I found it extremely inspiring and motivating! As always I really liked the large number of scripture references the author supplied. That makes all the difference to me! This would be a great Bible study for an individual, class, or group. It deserves to be read and studied more than once.
I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

A Flickering Light By Jane Kirkpatrick

I am consistently amazed at Ms. Kirkpatrick’s historical fiction books. They not only bring to light the person they are written about but many social and cultural differences in that time period.
I had never even considered all photography in the early 20th century involved until I read this book. Jessie Gaebele was a bit of a modern woman in the sense that she wanted more than anything to pursue a career in photography. Women just didn’t do that; they weren’t supposed to have careers at all! Even though she still lived at home under the watchful eye of her parents, she managed to follow her dream. I believe her confidence and poise came from her all-consuming love of taking pictures.
In that era it was a bit more than just grabbing a Polaroid or digital camera. I had never considered how dangerous it was until I read about Jessie. The chemicals used to process the pictures were toxic not only to touch but the fumes were poisonous too. Photographers often suffered from chemical poisoning that made them very ill and ultimately dementia and organ failure. In addition to the chemicals there was the danger of explosions and fires from the flash powders that could kill or maim. Given how protected women were during this time, you can understand how bold Jessie’s pursuit was! This doesn’t even take into account that she was only 15 years old at the time!
Her opportunity came when she is hired as an assistant to Mr. Bauer of Bauer Studios. She would gain experience and knowledge to hopefully someday open or studio. Although she was young she proved herself a quick learner, talented and responsible. I learned right along with Jessie as she apprenticed. I never thought of how the only lighting they hand was natural light from windows, or how skilled one would have to be to pose subjects considering this.
Her new job brought her face to face with something she had never dreamed of; she became emotionally attracted to her employer. Matters were further complicated because he was not only married (albeit very unhappily to a petty nervous wife in fragile health) but he was also 26 years older than Jesse! Before long Mr. Bauer returned that attraction. This was not a sordid tale as one might think. It is a beautiful story of having self-control in the face of strong, sinful temptations and staying true to God rather than giving into fleshly desires. Her close family’s intuition and God’s convicting hand kept Jessie from straying. The author was very tasteful in handling this.
The book is made even more exciting because it is based on the life of Jane Kirkpatrick’s grandmother who was a photographer during that time and even owned her own studio! The vintage pictures placed at the beginning of various chapters were so special. They were actually taken by the author’s grandmother! I always look forward to Jane Kirkpatrick’s books. They are in a league of their own!
Be sure to go to http://www.jkbooks.com/ and check out more of Jane Kirkpatrick’s wonderful books! I received this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Praying the Attributes of God By Ann Spangler

Ann Spangler’s books are always a feast for the eyes and the spirit! I absolutely love this book and it will remain in my library to be used throughout the years. It is a wonderful 17 week Bible study that helped me dig deeper! I always want to improve my prayer life and get to know my Heavenly Father better, and this book definitely helped.
Each chapter is divided into 5 days, Monday through Friday. On Mondays you will be introduced to a specific attribute of God. Included will be Bible study with questions. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays, there will be devotions guiding you in praying for the characteristic of God that week. Suggestions on the 5 parts of prayer (Meditation, Praise, Thanksgiving, Confession, and Petition) are given. These are to get you started on personalizing your prayer time. Fridays cover promises in scripture associated with God’s attribute. At the end is a section called, “Continued Prayer and Praise” with more scripture references you can use for your weekend study and prayer.
It is easy in this day and time to unconsciously develop wrong ideas about God. Our society is saturated with them. Satan has made sure. By studying the truth of Who He is, we are not only drawn closer to Him but also more grounded in biblical truth. The more we get to know anyone, especially those who are good, the more we love them and want to be with them. It is no different with God. He is the most important relationship in our lifetime to develop. That is exactly what this book puts you on the road to doing.
I found the format not only user friendly, but it also motivated me to spend time in the Word and study. The abundant scriptural references back up the truths Ms. Spangler shares. Quotes of famous Christians and the author’s personal anecdotes added to the lessons.
Ms. Spangler is one of my favorite non-fiction authors. Her talent for not only sharing God’s principals, but also helping the reader see the application to their life is a true gift. You can’t get a bad book from Ann Spangler! An exceptional book from an exceptional author!
I received this book free from the author. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Please visit Ann Spangler’s website and see many more superb books she has written at: http://www.annspangler.com

Why Dogs Are… By Tana Thompson, Illustrated by Marita Gentry

I have mixed reviews about this book. It is the story of a young boy named Brian who was born blind and deaf. The author alludes that God wants to show Brian how much he loves him, so He sends him a dog from heaven to help him. The dog is told that if he does a good job, God will send more dogs to earth.
On the positive side, this is an absolutely gorgeous hardback book with outstanding and colorful illustrations. They captured the emotions of the dog and the people in the story to the point that one couldn’t help but be touched. I also liked that there were reading pages and pages with only pictures. This would allow the child to add his or her ideas to the story.
On the not so positive side, I understand the book was fictional, but I have trouble that it depicts dogs as being sent from heaven by God for specific jobs. There were other parts that also concerned me. It conflicts greatly with what scripture says. A small child is not able to separate truth from untruth in many ways. They even believe fairy tales. To impart imaginary and false information about God and His Word to a youngster is not acceptable to me. I see it as a sacrilege to that which is holy.
I even thought it might be okay to read the book to a child if it was made clear ahead of time what parts are fact and what are fiction. But after much consideration I don’t think I could, as I feel it would be disrespectful to put God in that light.
This was such a shame and the book has so many wonderful things going for it. I think it is great that 100% percent of net profits from book sales goes to charities that train and support therapy dogs. It was clear that the author has a big heart for therapy dogs and those that need them to have a better quality of life.
I received this book free from the publisher through theBookCrash.com book review program, which requires an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s CFR Title 16, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
This book was provided to me by Kendall Neff Publishing.