Tuesday, June 19, 2018

My First-Ever Bonsai Tree!!

During the last month, I have been on a new adventure!

A friend of mine gave me a bonsai tree starter kit for my birthday last fall and I've finally pulled it out and begun growing my own bonsai! I have never done this before, so every step has been new and exciting and a little bit scary (in the sense that I really want this to work and am scared I don't have a green thumb). My little instruction manual is quite specific, and of course, I followed every single step to the letter of the law.

The process started by soaking the seeds for 24 hours (shown above...the five seeds are in the Ziplock filled with water). After that, the seeds were placed in a damp paper towel and put into the fridge for a week. And then finally I was allowed to plant them! 

Above is my planted seeds patiently waiting for the rain outside to stop so they can get some much-needed sunshine. :)

After one week I had a whole bunch of moss and nothing else, but after two weeks I finally had the little green shoots I'd been waiting for!

A few days later, it became excessively clear which plant I was going to keep and which to remove (you only need 1 bonsai, but you plant extra seeds to make sure you get at least 1. I ended up with 4 growing shoots from my 5 seeds. But only 1, as you can see from the above picture, actually wanted to be a bonsai tree. I'm pretty sure the others saw their brother growing so quickly and then immediately gave up and quit growing at all.)

That's what my bonsai tree looks like so far. I'm not sure how much longer it'll have to grow before I get into the detailed discipline that is trimming a bonsai tree. I'm excited though! I love exploring new things, and this one has been especially fun to do! :)

I also vlogged the whole experience, if you want to see me planting, watering, murdering young shoots that didn't make the cut, and all that: My Bonsai Vlog

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Book Review: Christy

Today I am reviewing a book most dear to my heart: Christy, by Catherine Marshall. I've read this book multiple times, so this isn't a fresh-faced review like most of mine have been.

What is this book all about?

Why did a nineteen-year-old girl want to leave her comfortable home to teach in a one-room schoolhouse in an isolated cove in the Great Smokies? Christy Huddleston, "eager to taste life to the full," wanted to do just that. From the moment she steps onto the station platform at El Pano that snowy January morning in 1912, her adventures begin. Not the least of which are the strange mountain customs that shatter Christy's illusions about life and make her face up to herself and what she believes.

I can't really do a "First Impressions" section since this is my fifth or sixth reading of this particular book, so instead, I'll do my overall impressions of this read-through. I simply adore this book. The story is captivating but even more than that Miss Alice's wisdom and Christy's grappling with what she truly believes challenges, encourages, and strengthens me in my walk with the Lord with every read-through.

The characters are vibrant. I feel like I am living there in the Appalachian mountains with these Highlanders. They leap from the page and draw you in to dwell with them in rustic cabins, watching beautiful sunsets and admiring majestic mountains while surrounded by barefooted children and a handful of chickens. That was an oddly specific description right there, but it's true.

And the way Catherine Marshall weaves Christy's questions of faith throughout the story amazes me. Many of Christy's questions are questions I've asked myself, and I can follow her doubts through to her certainty and believe it. A lot of times faith in "Christian Literature" I feel isn't handled well. It's either thrown in as an afterthought or it is unbelievable. Characters leap to conclusions or come to an understanding of Jesus without a natural progression. I, as the reader, cannot make those same conclusions. But that isn't true in Christy. I can follow the questioning of her faith and how she discovers what she truly believes because it unfolds in the most natural and real way.

One other thing I love about this book is how dated it is. I love, not only the very period way that the Highlanders talk (which is dated even for Christy's time) but the way the book itself is written. I'm a huge lover of classic literature, and though this book isn't that old, it shouldn't come as a surprise to me that a story written before the twenty-first century captures my heart in a way that no modern book ever has.

Would I read this book again? Obviously, as this isn't my first reading.

Would I recommend this book to others? Absolutely yes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Book Review: Blessed Child

Today I am reviewing Blessed Child by Ted Dekker. Boy, do I love this author!

Okay, what is this story about--before I start fangirling please--?

Whoever said that a straightened hand was more dramatic than a healed heart anyway?

A young orphan boy was abandoned during the midst of an invasion and raised in an Ethiopian monastery. He has never seen outside its walls--at least, not the way most people see. Now he must flee those walls or die.

But the world beyond is hardly ready for a boy like Caleb.

When relief worker Jason Marker agrees to take Caleb from the monastery, he unwittingly opens humanity's doors to an incredible journey filled with political intrigue and peril. Jason and Leiah--the French-Canadian nurse who escapes the monastery with him--quickly realize Caleb's supernatural power to heal. But so do the boy's enemies, who will stop at nothing to destroy him. Jason and Leiah fight for Caleb's survival while the world erupts in debate over the source of his power.

In the end, nothing can prepare them for what they discover.

First Impressions? This book is AMAZING. I was blown away.

Ted Dekker, as per usual, writes vibrant characters that leap from the page into my imagination and take hold there, proving time and time again just how real they are.

And again, as per usual, Dekker's suspenseful and intriguing story had me spell-bound and turning page after page after page.

Faith is a large part of a lot of Dekker's books, but this one was unique. The entire story is wrapped around the power of the Holy Spirit and what God can accomplish through you when you open up to that incredible power. I was humbled and challenged and encouraged in so many ways in my walk with Jesus while reading this book.

When Caleb is taken from isolation and introduced to Western culture, he begins to lose his sweet innocent faith. His journey from purity and certainty to temptation and doubt and then back into the arms of Jesus again paralleled my own in so many ways--and I am sure many other Christians' as well.

Aside from the faith aspect--which was basically the whole story--, the political intrigue was fascinating and nearly as interesting as Caleb's spiritual journey. Not quite, but nearly. Dekker had me on the edge of my seat throughout the book.

Would I read this book again? Oh my good gravies, YES!

Would I recommend this book to others? Yes, yes, yes!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Review: Beyond the Horizon

I'm back with another book review! This time of Beyond the Horizon by Jesseca Wheaton. Jesseca is a new author I've discovered, and so far greatly enjoyed. I'm going to deviate from my previous format of doing reviews long enough to dive into something dear to my heart.

Jesseca Wheaton is an Indie author like myself, which is why I originally was interested in her work. I know how hard it can be to make your way as an Indie author and I love to support other people in my line of work. After that initial reason, however, I soon became intrigued by her books simply from reading their synopses. Let's back-track half a moment to say, I met Jesseca at the convention I went to earlier this year and that's where I first became introduced to her work and intrigued by it.

At any rate, showing my love for fellow Indie authors, I've read Beyond the Horizon.

So what is this book about?

Eliana longs to see the world beyond the mountains that tower above Salzburg, Austria, but knows that dream will never see such adventure--and neither will she.

Surrounded by a world of cruelty, she lives for the weekly visits of Aron, a boy she met on one of her rambles through the countryside.

But as the years pass and she begins to grow older, a new an unwelcome world is opened up to her. On a fateful night at a party she vowed she'd never attend, she comes face to face with a shocking truth. As the world around her teeters on the brink of war, Eliana struggles to figure out just where her loyalty lies; a decision that will drastically change the course of her life. Will she ever be free to see what lies beyond the horizon?

First Impressions: I loved it! It's a very sweet story.

This story is a Cinderella re-telling set in World War II Austria, and I thought Jesseca did a splendid job of transferring that story from fairytale to modern era. It wasn't cheesy, like most modern stories of Cinderella are.

The characters are delightful and quaint (I use that word in the best sense! i.e. picturesque, charming, sweet). The setting is intriguing. To be fair, it is a novella so we don't dive too deep into either character development or the politics and war going on at that time. However, I think it works well for this story. It's a simple love-story that happens to be set during World War II. The war adds a bit of suspense to the story but it doesn't overwhelm it because, as I said, we don't dive too deep into all of that.

The love story is believable, which is something I sometimes have trouble with in novellas simply because there isn't a lot of time to prove to the reader it is something they should believe in. Jesseca definitely convinced me of the love story.

One thing I had a small issue with was the faith element she has entwined in the story. It takes rather a backseat than otherwise, which is why when one of the characters comes to Jesus it sort of felt misplaced and out of nowhere. If I thought about it, I could see the progression. But that's the thing, I shouldn't have to think about it; the progression should feel natural and I should be able to follow it subconsciously. That was one of the very few things that bothered me about this book.

The other things that struck me at times was a few grammatical errors. To be fair, every book has them. Even Dee Henderson shocks me with one or two occasionally. No matter how many edits you go through, you're always going to miss at least one issue (I speak from experience). With that being said, there were enough of them in this small tale that it stuck out to me, and also momentarily drew me out of the story. It also seemed to say "self-published" or in other words "unprofessional" which is not something we Indie authors want our books to say. We deserve to be on reader's shelves as much as any traditionally published book. And Jesseca's story is no exception; I am glad to add it to my collection. I'm simply trying to be impartial and review this book without my "I love fellow Indie authors!" rose-colored glasses, so I have to say that the many grammatical errors did draw me out of the story and present the book as less than perfect.

Enough negativity, though! Back to the good stuff...

There was one major plot point that I saw coming a mile away, and I thought I had Jesseca Wheaton all figured out. And then she hit me over the head with something completely out of left field that I didn't expect at all. Kudos to you, Miss Wheaton! :) I was surprised firstly because I didn't expect a plot twist from her because I thought I'd figured her out, and secondly because I was reading a tiny novella and wasn't prepared for major plots twists because of that simple fact. I do so love when authors surprise me though!

Would I read this book again? Absolutely!!

Would I recommend this book to others? 100% Everyone, go read it!! You can buy it here: Beyond the Horizon on Amazon

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

TPA Homeschool Convention 2018

Or in other words, my first ever conference as an author...ever! :)

I had so much fun!

April 12th-14th I was off on a brand new adventure: sitting behind a table with my books displayed before me for the world to see, talking to complete strangers (terrifying experience, that), and making connections as an author.

My brother--I should say "one of" as I have many--was the one who convinced me to do this conference and helped me get it put together. My parents came on board and were an immense help as well. It was all crazy and new; ordering physical copies of my books (just how many copies does one need?) and creating business cards and paying for a booth space. And then the day of the conference arrived and it was talking to strangers and trying not to being a narcissist while talking solely about myself and my books.

Surprisingly--at least to me--I actually did sell books! And I made a few new connections with fellow Indie authors...and all-in-all I simply had a blast! I'm so glad that I went!

I'm excited to return next year to this conference, and I am excited to look into other conferences as well that I can go to. This is a new era for me as an author, and so far I am loving it!

That was a rather short recap there, but I really don't have a lot to say. I had a lot of fun, and I want to do it again! What I learned throughout the convention is that I need classes on how to talk to strangers, especially when all I'm doing is selling a product. It's just so awkward and embarrassing to talk to humans at the best of times, and then add that I'm selling something and it's just awful.

My favorite moment of the weekend was when a lady realized my Robin Hood series incorporates the redemption story (a.k.a Jesus) and she asked if the books were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There's four Robin Hood books right now, so I can see how that could have made sense...but no. I did not retell the gospel books via Robin Hood. At any rate, it made me laugh.

Anyway, if I head to anymore conferences or conventions I'll be sure to update you all on that when it happens. :)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: Blink of an Eye

Today I am reviewing Blink of an Eye by Ted Dekker. This is actually a reprinting of his book Blink. I'm not sure how much was changed between the two versions, but I do know that he made some edits to Blink and created Blink of an Eye just before the movie based on this book came out. I haven't read Blink, or seen the movie, but I did just finish reading Blink of an Eye.

Sorry if that was a tad bit confusing.

So what is this book all about?

The future changes in the blink of an eye...or does it? Miriam is a Saudi princess promised to another, a pawn in a political struggle that could shift the balance of power in the Middle East. Seth is a certified genius with a head full of numbers, a life full of baggage, and an attitude born on the waves of the Pacific. Cultures collide when they find themselves thrown together as fugitives in a high-stakes chase across Southern California. A growing attraction and a search for answers fuel their fight to survive...but with no sleep and a massive manhunt steadily closing in, their chances of surviving any future are razor thin.

This isn't in the description of the book (spoilers? What I'm about to say is in the description of Blink, just not Blink of an Eye for some reason...), but I'm going to add that Seth is given an incredible and unfathomable gift of being able to see the future. Not completely and not distantly, but he can at least see more than what is happening to him in the present.

First Impressions? I really enjoyed this story and I couldn't put it down.

It took me all of two days to read this book. I wasn't surprised by that at all, because Ted Dekker is, among every author I've read to date, the most skilled at creating irresistible page-turning stories.

The characters in this book are vibrant and leap off of the page. They all felt very real; beautifully so when it came to Miriam and Seth, the main characters, and rather terrifyingly so when it came to the antagonists. I believed this story because it felt just that; real.

I have already mentioned this, but I could not put this book down. The intense, spell-bounding tale of political intrigue had me turning pages at a rapid rate; and Seth's uncanny ability to see the futures--and yes, that is plural--had me on the edge of my seat. You might think a story about a boy who can see the future would be pretty straight forward--what could happen that Seth and we as the reader don't already know--but Ted Dekker just kept throwing plot twists in my lap and it was amazing. This was an incredibly fun read.

Now let's talk about the meat of this story: Faith. Seth is not a believer in Jesus and Miriam is deeply Muslim. They aren't particularly searching for the truth throughout the story, but they are struggling with what it means to love. Miriam is betrothed to another man for political reasons if nothing else, and has never even met him. Seth is just a college kid who is too smart for his own good. On this crazy adventure that they find themselves on, the two of them discover something simple. Love. I'm not talking about romantic love or any other specific element of that four letter emotion. Just love. I thought it was truly beautiful the way that Dekker didn't try and make the characters run into some sort of evangelical on their journey who would lead them to salvation; Jesus wasn't shoved down their throats. They came to their conclusions on their own in the most natural and simplest way possible. I loved it. I feel that a lot of times Christian fiction doesn't seem plausible. People become believers simply because that's what the author intended of them, but it doesn't feel natural. This story, however, felt more natural than any other I've read to date. And I loved it! I am an avid lover of Jesus, but sometimes Christian fiction is too preachy even for me. This story, however, was not that way.

I will also add that I found Dekker's take on the Muslim community refreshing in the sense that every one of them wasn't portrayed as a terrorist. They were people. Some of them radical in their faith, some of them simply deeply involved in it--as many Christians are in their own--and some of them simply going through the motions.

Now, with that being said, I know very little about Islam myself. I haven't studied the religion or culture, I haven't met many people who are a part of it. I can't say that a Muslim reading Blink of an Eye would agree that it is a realistic or authentic take on Islam. So take everything I just said with a grain of salt and the understanding that I'm not an expert on this subject at all. I was just relieved to find a group of Muslims portrayed as a group of people; some of them passionate about their faith, some of them less so. Each one of them unique; as real people are.

Would I read this book again? A thousand times, YES.

Would I recommend this book to others? Without hesitation. Please, go read it. It's AMAZING.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Book Review: True Courage/Kidnapped

I have another book review for you! This time of True Courage, the final (sort of) novel in Dee Henderson's Uncommon Heroes series. Technically speaking, this book is no longer available as True Courage, Uncommon Heroes #4. It has been renamed Kidnapped and removed from the Uncommon Heroes series. Why? I have no idea. I didn't do any research into that odd situation. On some level it does rather make sense, considering True Courage has zero characters or plot in common with books 1-3. They were military based entirely, and True Courage isn't. At any rate, the copy of this novel that I read is True Courage, not Kidnapped, so I'm reviewing it as True Courage. As far as I know, the only thing changed was the title, not the story itself, so this review should hold for both. Don't quote me on that though.

So what is this story all about?

Someone snatched his cousin's wife and son. FBI agent Luke Falcon is searching for a kidnapper and sorting out the crime. He's afraid it is the work of a stalker. He's afraid they're already dead. And he'll do anything required to get them back alive...he didn't plan on falling in love with the only witness.

First Impressions? This book was a lot slower to get into. To be fair, with any average novel I wouldn't have thought anything of it, but the fact it took two chapters for me to be hooked to a Dee Henderson novel struck me as odd. She usually catches me on page 1. However, once I was hooked, she delivered the same spell-binding, suspenseful, amazing storytelling she always does.

I know I say this with every Dee Henderson novel, but her characters are practically flawless. Not that the characters don't have faults but that they are written so well.

Her ability to string the reader along on an intense mystery of uncovering the truth before someone gets hurt is awe-inspiring.

I'm basically just a fangirl of Dee Henderson at this point. Expect zero intellectual or analytical breakdown of this book or any other of hers. I'm just here to rave about how awesome she is!

Because it took me two chapters or so to really get hooked on this story, I had half written a start to this review where I talked about how this is my least favorite Dee Henderson book and I was even bored by it....and then I got past the beginning and realized it could easily be a favorite Dee Henderson novel of mine. She's just that good. I don't think she's physically capable of writing a bad novel.

I will say, faith took a bit of a backseat in this one. Not that it wasn't there, because it definitely was. The two main characters have a very solid relationship with Jesus and that was definitely showcased. Usually in Dee Henderson novels the main character is struggling with a specific aspect of faith that they then deal with/learn through the tale. That wasn't the case in this specific story which is why I say it took a backseat. It was still very present, it just wasn't a plot point.

Would I read it again? Absolutely.

Would I recommend this book to others? 100% YES.