Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Book Review: Zen Camera

I got this book by mistake when I accidentally clicked the wrong link. I was hoping the book would be filled with gorgeous photos, but perhaps I just don't understand "zen" photography, because I found the photos to be rather boring. The text is filled with lingo that I imagine only a photographer would understand. 

Unfortunately, this is the worst review I've ever written. Not because the book is bad, but rather because I am an unartistic, un-zen-ful non-photographer. 

I received this book by Blogging for books in exchange for this review. 

Curriculum Review: The Good and the Beautiful

This past year, I was given the opportunity to review The Good and the Beautiful curriculum. The curriculum looked solid, but as the author, Jenny Phillips, is Mormon, I had some concerns about differences in worldview. I emailed with a list of questions about the curriculum and the Jenny wrote back personally. She offered to send me the curriculum to try out for myself. 

Here's what I tried:

Language Arts and Literature: PreK, K, and 3rd


Pros: The materials are so pretty! There are many sweet little games to teach letters. 
Cons: I didn't care for cutting out all the pieces. In fact, my sweet preschooler saw me cut things out and decided to help. She destroyed a couple of my favorite games. :( 


I did not get a chance to use this program, as I gave it away to someone who needed it more than I. However, it looks like a solid phonics program and it is printed beautifully, just like PreK. 

3rd grade:

Pros: This level includes so many things... grammar, reading, writing, art appreciation, spelling, vocabulary, geography, and more! Also, this level (along with levels 1-5) are offered free as online downloads!
Cons: The program was too teacher intensive for our family. I did not like the organization of the program, it jumped around too much from topic to topic. There was a required book to purchase that wasn't mentioned until I had gotten a few weeks into the program. There was SO MUCH in the program that it left me overwhelmed, but perhaps I was moving through it too quickly. 

 Handwriting: Levels 2 and 4

Pros: We love these handwriting books! They are practical, pretty, and fun! Both levels contain art "extras," like mazes, coloring, and drawing. My children have become quite the artists!

Cons: It's hard to think of one, except I wish there were some longer passages to work on, especially in the upper level

Year 1 History

The Good and the Beautiful History is a 4 year schedule. Each year you go all the way through history, but touching different topics each time. You can find a detailed outline of how this works HERE

There are several elements to the history program. 

-Course Book: This is the teacher's guide. Here you will find daily readings, questions, pictures, and instructions for the other parts of the program. 
-PDF Student Explorers: This is a lovely set of printables in 4 levels. There are maps, coloring sheets, research assignments, and other activities. 
-The Big Book of History Stories: Beautiful 204 page story book with maps and lovely illustrations
-Keys of History Board Game: A game for the whole family to review history
-Dramatized audio recordings: Two children listen as their uncle tells stories from history

Pros: Very good quality materials. The history portion is interesting, the student explorers sheets are excellent, and even I enjoyed listening to the audio recordings. My husband and I agree that the board game is FUN!
Cons: I just have a hard time getting into the 4 year rotation of topics. I prefer a chronological approach. But that's just my opinion. 


The Good and the Beautiful science is comprised of unit studies. You can go through them as fast or as slow as you like. We tried Arthropods and Meteorology. 

Pros: Once again, the materials are gorgeous and interesting. The activities are simple and fun. 
Cons: I can't think of any. We dropped the science program because I had overplanned my school year and was trying to do two science programs (a mistake on my part!). 

We have also been using the nature notebooks. 

Pros: These are excellent if you don't know how to "do" nature walks! My kids have drawn pictures and written summaries to describe nature, gone on leaf hunts, done bark rubbings, and more!
Cons: None

 As far as that worldview I was concerned about, the only issue I had was the occasional moralizing. Such as, "Christ taught us to be kind to others, to seek learning, to be respectful, to be clean, and to be organized." I am wary of anything that teaches my children that they have to work to become better people. The most important thing about Christ's work is that it is finished; there is nothing we can DO to add to it. We believe; and He lends us the strength to obey.

Although I have some differences of opinion on the worldview and the structure of some of the lessons, overall I am pleased with The Good and the Beautiful curriculum as a beautiful, well done, well organized program. I am deeply indebted to Jenny Phillips for providing curriculum for our family. It has been a huge blessing!

That being said, we will not be continuing with the Good and the Beautiful curriculum for the upcoming year. As stated above, I prefer a chronological approach to history, I was overwhelmed by the language arts, and we need more practice for handwriting. We will be going with My Father's World in the upcoming year, and Cheerful Cursive for handwriting. We WILL continue to utilize the nature notebook though, along with our My Father's World program, and the board game will be fun to play to supplement our history study.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Book Review: Daring to Hope

Last year, I read a great book called Kisses for Katie, about an 18 year old girl who moved to Uganda and, by the time she was 23, had adopted 13 girls. I was moved and challenged by that book, and so I was thrilled to be able to review her second book, Daring to Hope.

Whereas the first book told the story of how she arrived at Uganda and how she ended up adopting all her daughters, this book tells of what her life was like after all the excitement settled down. She began to face many difficult things, encountering illness and death and loss, which is why the subtitle of this book is "Finding God's Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful."

Reflecting on these challenges, Katie writes, "And I did not know that in the middle of much pain and grief and loss, I would experience a joy and a peace that far surpassed human understanding... The Lord would take the darkness and make it my secret place, the place where I knew Him more intimately and deeply than I had ever fathomed possible. In the middle of the hurricane that surrounded me, I would experience a true Comfort so deep, so clear, that it simply could not be denied. It was Jesus. He was near... No, He didn't make the pain easy. But He made it beautiful."

Katie's writing, once again, challenges and inspires me. I see myself in her words, as I wrestle with many of the same things. For instance, later in the book, as she is helping an addict, she is struck by a realization of her own insufficiency as God brings conviction to her heart: "I am the addict and doubt is my drug, this ugly lack of trust, the place I turn when I am weak. It is my lifelong Jacob wrestle, my unwillingness to lay a dear one on the altar and trust that the Lord will provide." Through her beautiful illustrations and openness in sharing her struggles, Katie continually points the reader to the Answer to our problems, the Source of our joy. I look forward to watching what God has for her future.

You may learn more about the author HERE.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Book Review: The Masterpiece

Roman Velasco, a rich, successful artist needs a personal assistant. Grace Moore, a struggling single mom, needs a job. When these two are thrown together, they begin to learn that they aren't so different from what they first thought. Both have secrets in their past: from tragic childhoods, to illegal activity, to a failed marriage. If they let Him, there's only One who can mend their broken pasts and show them the Masterpiece He's working in their lives.

I already love several books by Francine Rivers, so I was excited to read this book! The book did not disappoint, and it held me captive as I retreated into its pages for an entire day. My laundry and kitchen need cleaning, because I was too busy reading to take care of things! The story is well written. The characters are well developed with real flaws, and the story shares Truth without getting preachy. As I mentioned before, the book captivated me. The author skillfully melds the stories of different characters, easily going back and forth between past and present.The ending is satisfying, a necessary conclusion to (shall I say it?) a Masterpiece of a book. 

To learn more about the author, click HERE

I received this book from Tyndale House Publishers for this review.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Book Review: The Empowered

A mysterious death. A former lawyer, Trevor Black, is on the case. Black has an uncanny gift. He is able to sense demonic forces. As Black travels to New Orleans to investigate, things quickly unravel. His daughter disappears, with evidence that she may be connected to the case and Black is suddenly named one of the top suspects. He has to solve the case and rescue his daughter while fighting evil forces before time runs out.

Unfortunately, I was not able to finish this book. The writing style stumbles a bit, leading me to yawn rather than drawing me in. The more dramatic scenes, rather than causing me to hold my breath, had me giggling and rolling my eyes. The author also chooses to have a southern character overuse the word "y'all." Unfortunately, the supposedly southern character uses "y'all" as a singular word, when every southerner knows that "y'all" means "you all," and is a plural word. The result is that this novel is dramatic, boring, and simply unbelievable.

To learn more about the author, click HERE

I received this book from Tyndale House Publishers for this review.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Book Review: A Force So Strong: Mao, Truman, and the Birth of Modern China, 1949

This book chronicles the political maneuvering that occurred in 1949 as the leadership in China changed. I have family members who live in China, so this book looked interesting to me. Author Kevin Peraino manages to make a dull topic interesting as he skillfully describes the people involved and describes their physical appearance and emotions. I did get lost a bit in the politics, which bore me, but I still learned a lot from this book and gained a deeper understanding of history, and that's a big reason to pick up a new book and read, isn't it?

You may learn more about the author HERE.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Book Review: Gospel Centered Mom

Being a mom can be tough. From preparing for the "perfect" birth to pacifier options, to picking out a dentist to helping our child choose a college, we always want to do the best for our children. And I believe all moms have a certain fear of failing our kids, of not being "enough."

The back of Gospel Centered Mom reads, "What if the solution is simply to embrace the truth that you are not enough--but God is?"

This book looks into the ways we can go back to the Gospel truths in our mothering. Each chapter concludes with a hard truth and a beautiful truth. This journey is hard, but it's worth it!

I find this encouraging book to be simple enough a read to pick up to read for a few moments in the midst of my busy days. It brings my focus back to where it needs to be. I hope others will find it an encouragement as well.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.