Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift - Ann Voskamp


I love Ann Voskamp.  She is one of those women who just has a way of saying something and you go, "ah ha, I get it now."  Her latest offering, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, is a collection of advent writings that point the family to the heart of Christmas- Jesus.

Every year at Christmas my husband and I sit down and intentionally plan how we're going to approach the season.  We strive to maintain a balance between the busy joy of all the traditional holiday activities and the quiet, still reverence of the birth of our Savior.  We want our children to celebrate Jesus, not Christmas, and there is a difference.  

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift is meant to be read each day leading up to Christmas.  Ann's writing is flowery and verbose, but she poignantly traces the lineage of Christ as she weaves numerous Bible stories together in a celebration of Advent.  Each daily reading has scripture references and questions to encourage family participation.  This would be ideal to use as a family devotional during Advent season.

Included are digital files for ornaments that kids can color and hang on the Jesse tree.  Unwrapping the Greatest Gift is a great little package that truly showcases the gift of Jesus and helped turn our family's heart toward Him this holiday season.

I do have a few grumbles. Ann can tend to be a bit over the top with her language choices.  Oftentimes this book spoke way above my kids' heads, clearly written in a style more suitable for adults.  Also, I had a few issues with interpretations and liberties that were taken with scripture.  The flood was portrayed as a purely loving event, and Satan was hurled down from heaven on Christmas Eve.  Again, these devotions are gorgeously written and the imagery is beautiful, but I did not agree with some of the theological interpretations.

Still, this is a beautiful book that accomplishes what it sets out to do; encourage us to make Jesus and his great gift the focus of our holiday season.  May we always do so.

Disclosure of Material: I received a complimentary copy from Tyndale Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Bahn Mi Handbook - Andrea Ngyuen


The Bahn Mi Handbook by Andrea Nyguen is an absolutely stunning cookbook.  Who knew sandwiches could be so captivating!  But it turns out, Nyguen isn't just writing any old sandwhich cookbook, she is paying homage to the bahn mi, a delightful mix of French and Vietnemese influences.

If you've never had a bahn mi before, I suggest you remedy that immediately.  The juxtaposition of crunchy French bread with five spice roasted pork and pickled vegetables is a taste sensation you'll never forget.  The Vietnamese have perfected the sour/sweet/salty combination that makes this sandwhich really pop.  In my humble opinion, the bahn mi is pretty much perfection.

Andrea Ngyuen, who runs a fantastic food blog called Viet World Kitchen, really hits it out of the park with this cookbook. There are so many variations to try, from the traditional spiced pork, to chicken and salmon patties, to vegetarian options.  Every sauce, spice, and pickled condiment has a recipe included.  Also, she breaks down in simple language and pictures how to construct the sandwich, which is an art form all it's own.

You can try a recipe for Caramel Shrimp, Thai Omelets, or Lemon Grass Sloppy Joes.  Eat it alone or stuff into a crusty sandwich roll with all the perfect toppings.  Bahn mi bliss!  Seriously, every single recipe is mouth watering.

If you're into adventerous cooking, or have wanted to learn how to step into cooking Asian cuisine with little to no fuss, I highly recommend trying these recipes.  Nyguen succeeds at demystifying Asain cuisine with this lovely handbook.

Disclosure of Material: I received a complimentary copy from Random House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Kitchen Confidence - Kelsey Nixion


I fell in love with Kelsey Nixon while watching her cook her way to winning Next Foodnetwork Star a few years ago. Now her first cookbook, Kitchen Confidence: Essential Recipes and Tips That Will Help You Cook Anything, has hit the shelves!  Her delicious, healthy, and easy recipes are ones I can recreate in the kitchen and feed my family.  Honestly, this cook book is fantastic!

The book begins with all of Kelsey's essential kitchen items- tools, pantry ingredients, and a simple how to guide.  It is a wonderful overview for beginner cooks and even introduces a few useful techniques for the more seasoned chef.

The recipes are varied, easy to follow, and delicious.  All courses are covered, from breakfast to appetizers to desserts, as well as party planning menus.  They are simple but interesting recipes, each one with an interesting ingredient or twist that causes the dish to rise above its average counterpart.

Our family favorites were:
- Skillet Sausage Hash with Eggs
-Tarragon Chicken Salad
- Creamed Corn
- Essential Stove-top Mac n Cheese (to die for!)
- Summer Bean Pea Salad
- Skillet Blueberry Peach Cobbler

This cookbook is beautifully laid out with colorful pictures on most pages, fun fonts and tidbits about the recipes.  If you like cooking, or need more confidence in the kitchen, I highly recommend Kelsey Nixon's cookbook!

Disclosure of Material: I received a complimentary copy from Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Family Project - Glenn Stanton & Leon Wirth


Well.  I had high hopes for this book because I feel passionately that the value and purpose of the "family" is something that has been lost to our culture in recent years.  Family has become such a watered down version of what the Bible laid it out to be.  It does not hold to the vision God created it for.  Instead of using our families as vehicles to reach the lost, serve our neighbors, and grow and tell the stories of our faith, family has become a way to satisfy our cultural desires for health, weath, and prosperity.

I had hoped that The Family Project by Focus on the Family would have concrete ideas about how to steer our current Christian culture's identity of family back to a Godly foundation.  Instead, the book is mostly a historical exposition on what family has meant throughout the generations- from Genesis to the the 21st century.  And while it is at times interesting, and most certainly very well researched and thought out, the overall message promised ("what to do about the reality that the idea of family is dying") is never delivered.  We get a lovely history and biblical worldview of what family is and was designed to be, but no real plan as to how to get there.

This book was a little too scientific and historical for me.  If that is what you're looking for then it will be right up your alley!  I was hoping for a clarion call to the culture- a biblical mandate to revisit the truths of the Bible, to build our families around a faith in God that dramatically changes the desires and purposes of our lives here on Earth.  That did not happen.

All in all, The Family Project fell a little flat.

Disclosure of Material: I received a complimentary copy from Tyndale Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

What Once Was Lost - Kim Vogel Sawyer


What Once Was Lost by Kim Vogel Sawyer is an inspiring story about hope and redemption through the eyes of a single woman and an orphaned boy.

Christina Willems is struggling to run her deceased father's poor farm after it is destroyed by a fire.  She is particularly invested in the life of a little boy who is orphaned, blind and has no place to turn.  When Levi Johnson, a grumpy widower, agrees to take him in, lives are changed for the better.

I appreciated how this novel addressed many issues that are near and dear to my heart.  Sawyer touches on the many prejudices that the poor, orphans, and people with disabilities face.  She showed how sometimes the church is not the place of refuge for these peole that it should be.  Still, there were times I wasn't sure if I would finish this book.  The main protagonist, Christina, was hard to sympathize with.  She was vey stubborn and headstrong, refusing to seek help when necessary and causing almost implausible trouble because of it.  In the end I found it was downright frustrating to muddle through the plot in order to get to the resolution.  The resolution, however, was very sweet.

I adore Kim Vogel Sawyer, and while this was not my favorite of her offerings, I do recommend it based solely on the careful and thorough way she explores the topics of poverty, fatherlessness, and prejudice.

Disclosure:  This book was provided to me by Waterbrook Multnomah for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

Friday, June 27, 2014

My Time With Grandma Bible Storybook - Phil A. Smouse


My Time with Grandma Bible Storybook by Phil Smouse is a fantastic collection of bible stories written with children in mind.  The book is filled with colorful illustrations by Ela Jarazbek, and the beautiful pages really help to bring these classic bible stories to life.

I let my two year old and four year old explore the twelve different stories, beginning at Creation and ending with the Resurrection.  They loved the pictures and the silly way the author uses action words to make the stories interactive.

The story of Daniel in the Lions' Den was my son's favorite.  The pictures were fantastic and it was very well written while staying completely true to the biblical rendition.

Each story ends with a "love note from Grandma", which sums up the devotional nicely and helps encourage your children to live out the truths they learned in the story.  A "love note from God" follows, which is a scripture verse that can be memorized and applied to the story.

Overall, this is a wonderful book that would be perfect to give as a gift for new grandmas, or even on Mother's Day.  Our family has thoroughly enjoyed it and we highly recommend it for yours!

Disclosure of Material: I received a complimentary copy from Tyndale Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.