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When Mommy's Home with Me by Alison Moulton ⇉ A Sweet Tribute to Motherhood

Thursday, April 20, 2017
Everyone who's heard me talk about my mom knows how much I love and respect her. Mothers do so much for their children. As I age, I'll only keep learning more of these things. When Mommy's Home with Me is a book that both young readers and older readers can appreciate.


WHAT I LIKED


Diverse Mothers
Because the story doesn't focus on one family, it was able to portray mothers in different roles. There are mothers of various occupations spending time with their children. From the wording, it seems that some have decided to quit their jobs to stay at home with their children; others are still working.

Diverse Families
The families look different as well. There are diverse ethnic groups as well as families with children of different numbers, genders, and ethnicities. One thing in common is that the focus is on the mother, so the fathers are not portrayed.

Learning Opportunity for Children
Children will learn that mothers come in different shapes, colors, and occupations. They will learn about different types of occupations and what they may learn from someone in that occupation. There are also some words they may not know and will have the chance to learn.


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE


Quick Pacing
Because the book features different mothers, each mother is allotted two pages. We zip through the different features, so the book moves quickly.

Lack of a Storyline
Also because the book doesn't focus on a single family: there is no coherent storyline. I could open the book to any page and read the two open pages on their own. That said, a young reader would enjoy learning about different types of occupations.

One Job / One "Role"
Such books do run the risk of stereotyping. Each mother is shown teaching or playing with their children in relation to their occupation. For example, scientist runs science experiments, the artist draws with her child, and the teacher teaches her child. The book doesn't teach children that a person's hobbies may differ greatly from his or her occupation.

That said, this is a book for younger readers, so it is helpful to teach in small chunks. The focus of this book is on mothers and their different occupations (and how children may learn from them). I would supplement this book with one that delves more deeply into the life of a single family; it would allow young readers to learn more about the complexities of life.


FINAL THOUGHTS


When Mommy's Home with Me is a sweet tribute to motherhood and the different kinds of mothers out there. This book provides a good learning opportunity for younger readers and will allow them to grow an appreciation for the different things that mothers do. I will be sharing my copy of the book with parents that I know.

★★★★☆


With rollicking rhymes and fanciful images, this adorable picture book celebrates the special relationship between mothers and their children. Filled with stories of all kinds of mommies--like pilots and artists and scientists--this book shows how modern mothers still treasure that precious time spent together at home. A perfect book for moms and kids to enjoy this Mother's Day or any time of the year!



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What did you enjoy doing with your mother growing up?



Publication Info
  • When Mommy's Home with Me by Alison Moulton
  • Published by Sweetwater Books
  • On March 1, 2017
  • Genres: Children's Book
  • Pages: 32 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series
  • N/A
Content
  • N/A

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

Xander and the Dream Thief by Margaret Dilloway ⇉ Everything I Loved in the First Novel

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
As I mentioned in my review of book 1, I was drawn to the Momotaro series because it features an Asian hero and mythology and because I love children's books. Xander's adventures remind me that people go through growing pains and become stronger individuals for them.

Note: If you haven't read the first book, there will be spoilers from that one!!


WHAT I LIKED


Everything I Liked from the First Book
Asian MC, Japanese mythology & culture, good family dynamics (minus the entrance of the mother figure), beautiful artwork . . . Momotaro #2 remains true to the elements that I enjoyed from book one. For more details, click here to read my review of Momotaro #1.

Character Growth
Xander is still a pubescent teen dealing with tween issues, and now he's one with special powers. He's quite the handful. That said, this provides much room for character growth, and Xander does just that. Young readers can relate to Xander's problems and learn how to work through issues.

Follows Events of the First Novel
I love how Xander of the Dream Thief follows through with events of the first novel. For example, the primary conflict in the novel is spurred by the after-effects of Xander's last adventure. Also affected are his relationships with friends, classmates, and family. (I'd talk more about these details, but that would go into spoilers!)


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE (AS MUCH)


Adults are Absent or in Need of Saving (Once More!)
In my review of the last book, I explained how it's unrealistic that children would be the ones saving the day without help from any adults. This still holds true. However, I do appreciate how Xander is able to work through his issues and mature as a character. Sometimes, we do need to learn the hard way outside of parental guidance. And I appreciate his parents' love and understanding through it all.

Quick, Not Well Developed Resolution
Some of the issues are wrapped up too quickly. In particular, there is one big issue that was introduced at the end of the last book and which proves a problem at the beginning of this book. I was expecting to see more development on this issue; however, it was resolved at the end without us seeing Xander work through it. I wish that more attention had been paid to this issue.


FINAL THOUGHTS


Overall, Xander and the Dream Thief is an enjoyable followup to the first novel. As long-time readers know, I always appreciate a novel with good family relationships and Asian characters. I especially love how this novel isn't another episodic adventure in Xander's life but incorporates elements from Momotaro #1. I'm looking forward to seeing where Margaret Dilloway takes us next!

★★★★☆


Xander Miyamoto should be feeling great. It's the beginning of summer vacation, his mother has returned from a long absence, and he has learned that he is a warrior with special powers. Xander never would have guessed that the old Japanese folktale about Momotaro, the hero who sprang from a peach pit, was real, much less part of his own heritage.

But instead of reveling in his recent victory against the oni, monsters bent on creating chaos, Xander is feeling resentful. What took his mother so long to come back? Why does his father insist on ruining the summer with study and training? And why is Xander plagued by nightmares every night? Maybe this whole Momotaro thing is overrated.

Xander's grandmother gives him a special baku charm to use to chase his nightmares away. He just has to be careful not to rely on it too much. If he does, the baku will not only take his dreams, but those of everyone in the house, forever. Without dreams, there is no hope, no motivation, no imagination, no Momotaro. And then it would be far too easy for Ozuno, king of the oni, to wreak havoc. . . .

On his second quest, Xander explores new surreal landscapes, encounters more strange and dangerous creatures, and faces even higher stakes as he learns whether or not he has what it takes to be Momotaro.



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CHAT WITH ME


Would you rather have both dreams and nightmares or no dreams at all? Why?



Publication Info
  • Momotaro by Margaret Dilloway
  • Published by Disney-Hyperion
  • On April 18, 2017
  • Genres: FantasyMiddle Grade
  • Pages: 336 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: Momotaro
  1. Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters
  2. Xander and the Dream Thief
Content
  • Bullying
  • Monsters that are potentially frightening for young readers
  • Violence (not graphic)

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters by Margaret Dilloway ⇉ A Modern Spin on Japanese Mythology

Friday, April 7, 2017
There's something magical about children's books that captivates me. No matter how old I get, I don't believe that I'll ever tire of them. Xander and the Lost Island combines the magic of children's books with Japanese mythology. There aren't enough books featuring Asian culture and characters, so I'm always ecstatic to find one on a topic that I love!


WHAT I LIKED


Asian MC
There are few books—and still fewer middle grade books—out there with an Asian hero. As soon as I saw this novel had a Japanese hero (well, Japanese-Irish hero), my interest was piqued. Growing up, I didn't have many books with heroes who looked like me, so I appreciate this book having an Asian MC.

Japanese Mythology & Norms
I love East Asian culture, and that includes learning more about the mythologies. The figures in Japanese mythology are very different from Western mythology. This novel provides a fun introduction to some of the figures of Japanese mythology as well as some of the cultural norms. It may provide a jumping board for young readers to learn more about another culture. (Though I wouldn't take this as the authoritative text. Xander grows up in America, and his mind is definitely one of a child going through puberty.)

Good family dynamics
I grew up with strong family values. Many novels will subvert family values by presenting irreconcilable family conflicts, but Xander presents a close-knit family, albeit one missing its mother but one in which the grandmother is prominent as a figure of wisdom. I'm especially grateful for how Xander's father shows understanding of his son's gifts and accepting of his differences from conventional norms for giftedness.

Beautiful artwork
Xander is a story in which art, creativity, and imagination are prominent themes. I love how the story blends full-page illustrations of events in the novel. This is a highly imaginative novel, and I enjoyed seeing illustrations of the figures that Xander runs into over the course of his adventure.


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE (AS MUCH)


Adults are Absent or in Need of Saving
It's a common cliche in children's books that the adults are inept or not as strong as the children. That said, I believe that children will find this element more enjoyable as this novel empowers children to take the initiative in situations where they may not have an adult present. One of the biggest fears of children is the fear of being alone without an adult figure; Xander's story proves that, while such a situation is not ideal, a child can pull through.

Puberty Troubles
Xander can be a bit of a brat and know-it-all. However, it is also to be expected of his age group, and it provides good opportunity for character growth. (And Xander does learn!)


FINAL THOUGHTS


Overall, Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters is an enjoyable middle-grade fantasy adventure with Japanese mythological elements. Young readers will enjoy exploring the island with Xander and learning that heroes are not born—they're forged by trial. Parents reading this book may discuss with their children what they may do to grow into a hero's role as Xander does!

★★★★☆


Xander Miyamoto would rather do almost anything than listen to his sixth grade teacher, Mr. Stedman, drone on about weather disasters happening around the globe. If Xander could do stuff he's good at instead, like draw comics and create computer programs, and if Lovey would stop harassing him for being half Asian, he might not be counting the minutes until the dismissal bell.

When spring break begins at last, Xander plans to spend it playing computer games with his best friend, Peyton. Xander's father briefly distracts him with a comic book about some samurai warrior that pops out of a peach pit. Xander tosses it aside, but Peyton finds it more interesting.

Little does either boy know that the comic is a warning. They are about to be thrust into the biggest adventure of their lives-a journey wilder than any Xander has ever imagined, full of weird monsters even worse than Lovey. To win at this deadly serious game they will have to rely on their wits, courage, faith, and especially, each other. Maybe Xander should have listened to Mr Stedman about the weather after all. . . .



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CHAT WITH ME


Which legendary hero's powers would you like to inherit and why?



Publication Info
  • Momotaro by Margaret Dilloway
  • Published by Disney-Hyperion
  • On April 5, 2016
  • Genres: FantasyMiddle Grade
  • Pages: 320 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: Momotaro
  1. Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters
  2. Xander and the Dream Thief
Content
  • Bullying
  • Xander draws a caricature of a classmate as a baboon
  • Monsters that are potentially frightening for young readers
  • Violence (not graphic)

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

Saving My Assassin by Virginia Prodan ⇉ A Powerful, Thrilling, and Uplifting Testimony

Thursday, April 6, 2017
Political intrigue. Drama. Suspense. Danger. And even some romance.

These elements come together in Saving My Assassin, a memoir that provides an insider perspective to life in communist Romania under the leadership of Nicolae Ceaușescu with a focus on Christian persecution.

"The world is a dangerous place; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

Albert Einstein

Gripping and Suspenseful
Saving My Assassin proved to be as gripping as you'd expect given the elements listed above.

Nowadays, as a second-year teacher, I rarely feel like I have the time to read for leisure—much less finish a book in one sitting. Outside of breaking for lunch and a quick grocery run, that's exactly what happened with Saving My Assassin. It was that unputdownable.

The story is rather fast-paced. In the first quarter or so of the book, we fly through Virginia's childhood and studies as a law student, then we proceed to progress rapidly through cases that give us insight into her life as a lawyer. While this breaks the flow of events, it works for this book because its purpose is not to celebrate Virginia's personal life and accomplishments but what God worked in and through Virginia.

Answers "Unresolved" Questions
Some questions are raised (in the reader's mind) throughout the novel. Some include: What happened to the assassin after he and Virginia parted ways in Romania long ago? What is his story? What are the circumstances surrounding Virginia's birth? What happened to her family in the end?

Some are addressed in part in the main text of the memoir. Others are answered in the Epilogue, A Final Note from the Author, Afterword, and the Author Q&A.

I highly recommend reading these "extras" as they contribute to our understanding of her story and the stories of the people whose lives she touched.

Demonstrates the Power of Conviction
Conviction is something many of us lack. We want God's salvation and the peace and joy that come with faith in Him, but we aren't willing to follow Him all the way. We don't feel the call to speak up and act on His behalf, or we're too afraid to take a stand for Christ and share the gospel.

Virginia listened to God. She felt the call to stand up for Christians being persecuted under Ceaușescu's regime, and her actions (and the actions of those she defended in court) helped pave the way for religious liberty in Romania.

Yes, her story sounds unbelievable, miraculous even. Yes, not all of us are called to take such a public stand. Yes, Virginia is Virginia, and her testimony is her testimony.

Just because we too choose to follow Christ doesn't mean that we will have the privilege of having God work through us in exactly the same way He did through Virginia. What we should take away from her story is the power of faith and following the conviction given to us. As Virginia says in her memoir, in the moment, she didn't know how the fruits of her efforts would turn out, but she chose to remain steadfast in the faith and continue moving forward. Likewise, we'll never know what we can accomplish through God's power unless we trust in Him and take action.

In the end, it's not about Virginia
While we certainly learn much about Virginia's story and how her efforts helped save many lives, Saving My Assassin is not about Virginia. Saving My Assassin is a powerful testimony on how God works in and through us when we place our faith in him.

"I understand the outer battle . . . But I cannot win this inner battle between my own heart and mind. Lord, you have to win this victory for me. Take away my fear and replace it with a peace that surpasses all understanding. I need your peace, Lord. I need your victory."

Virginia Prodan

A constant theme in Virginia's story is that of God's great power.

Especially moving for me is Virginia's testimony in Chapter 15 on how God's strength helped her love her enemies. On her own, she couldn't love the people who inflicted pain and punishment on her, but she would remember Jesus's words to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44).

Now, everything didn't click into place for her from the start. Virginia admits that she struggled a lot with loving her enemies before she could do it from the heart. I appreciate how she includes this detail because  I struggle with prayer, humbling myself, and pursuing God's will over mine. It is encouraging to see how our continued efforts to draw close to God will be rewarded.

Like Virginia, we will go through trials that test our faith. We will find ourselves with the opportunity to take a stand for Christ or deny Him out of fear. Depending on where we are in our walk with Jesus, it may take us years, or it may take us days to reach the level of conviction that Virginia demonstrates in her testimony. That's okay. We just need to keep moving forward, building our relationship with God, and challenging ourselves to overcome the trials before us.


FINAL THOUGHTS


Saving My Assassin is a testimony on the power of faith, the importance of truth, and the redeeming love of Christ. Set in the last years of the communist regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu, it also gives us a glimpse into Christian persecution and the value of freedom—to speak up, to go out, to select your career, to worship. And it raises concerns given the increasing persecution of Christians in other countries that also outwardly support religious freedom.

★★★★★



"I should be dead. Buried in an unmarked grave in Romania. Obviously, I am not. God had other plans."

At just under five feet tall, Virginia Prodan was no match for the towering 6' 10" gun-wielding assassin the Romanian government sent to her office to take her life. It was not the first time her life had been threatened--nor would it be the last.

As a young attorney under Nicolae Ceausescu's brutal communist regime, Virginia had spent her entire life searching for the truth. When she finally found it in the pages of the most forbidden book in all of Romania, Virginia accepted the divine call to defend fellow followers of Christ against unjust persecution in an otherwise ungodly land.

For this act of treason, she was kidnapped, beaten, tortured, placed under house arrest, and came within seconds of being executed under the orders of Ceausescu himself. How Virginia not only managed to elude her enemies time and again, but how she also helped expose the appalling secret that would ultimately lead to the demise of Ceausescu's evil empire is one of the most extraordinary stories ever told.





CHAT WITH ME


How will you go out and make a difference in someone's life this week?




Publication Info
  • Saving My Assassin by Virginia Prodan
  • Published by Tyndale House
  • On June 7, 2016
  • Genres: ChristianMemoir
  • Pages: 304 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series
  • N/A
Content
  • Mention of kissing
  • Violence (not graphic)
  • Persecution

5 Reasons to Watch War Room with the Family

Monday, April 3, 2017
Back when War Room first came out, I had mixed feelings about the premise. This sounds like another cheesy romance drama in which the couple learns the power of faith to overcome any trial in an unbelievably short amount of time.

In many ways, this is another cheesy romance drama because that's exactly what happens. It's the elements added to the mix of drama that makes this movie worth watching.

Following are five reasons to watch War Room with the family.

Family Friendly
As more of my close friends get married, I begin to think more about what I would be okay watching with a younger audience. Unlike many secular romance films, the focus of War Room is not on the romantic drama or the specific individuals involved. It's clear that there is a higher power at work here.

The film also doesn't contain inappropriate content for children. (See the content rating below for more details.)

Miss Clara
Whenever Miss Clara appeared on the screen, my family and I knew we were in for some laughs. She is a little woman with a fierce spirit and strong faith. I love her faith for the Lord. Her war room and tips on starting a prayer life inspired me to start a prayer journal.

I can easily see Miss Clara becoming a family favorite. She's certainly my favorite character!

Character Development
Though War Room initially portrays a dysfunctional family, it's clear from the beginning that this isn't a good situation and that something needs to change (and will change). Both Elizabeth and Tony have their own issues to work out individually before their relationship can change; it's powerful to see the transformation that faith works in their lives and subsequently their relationship. The scenes with their daughter at the end are especially heartwarming.

Good Morals
War Room portrays good morals that I would want to instill in a younger audience. Some of these values include the importance of respecting your partner, being there for your family, having a good work ethic, and meeting with a mentor figure for guidance.

Demonstrates the Power of Prayer
Lastly, War Room demonstrates the power of prayer. While some of the scenes may seem out there (such as the one where Miss Clara commands the thief to lay down his weapon in Jesus's name), one consistent theme in the movie is the significance of having a strong prayer life.

Along with this theme comes the truth that we cannot do anything on our own. We cannot create a change in someone else's life on our own. In the end, our peace comes from God, and our requests need to be made known to God. I saw somewhere that the times we think we don't have enough time to pray are the times we most need to pray, and this idea is supported in War Room.



FINAL THOUGHTS


War Room is an inspiring, heartwarming film that that will encourage believers to strengthen their prayer life and to reconsider their relationships with loved ones in light of Scripture. This is a film that I want to share with loved ones because of all the reasons listed above and because I don't want them to miss out on the message of the power of prayer and faith to work a radical transformation in our lives.

★★★★★



With great jobs, a beautiful daughter and a dream house, the Jordans seem to have it all. Appearances can be deceiving, however, as husband Tony flirts with temptation and wife Elizabeth becomes increasingly bitter, crumbling under the strain of a failing marriage. Their lives take an unexpected turn for the better when Elizabeth meets her newest client, Miss Clara, who encourages the couple to find happiness through prayer.









CHAT WITH ME


What does your war room (prayer life) look like? Or, what changes would you like to make?




Publication Info
  • Directed by Alex Kendrick
  • Produced by Affirm Films
  • Genres: ChristianDrama
  • Run time: 120 min.
  • Released 2015
Series
  • N/A

The Idiot by Elif Batuman ⇉ A Twist on the Bildungsroman + Giveaway!!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Books about college life are difficult to come by. A college story with a title that draws to mind a Russian classic and which features multicultural characters? Less so. These elements drew me to The Idiot by Elif Batuman.

The Idiot is the type of novel that I appreciated more as a college student when I wanted to be super intellectual and, like the protagonist Selin, was in the process of discovering my identity.

Despite the use of first person narration, the simple, straightforward narration and intellectual tone gives the reader distance from happenings in the novel. It also suggests that Selin is trying to gain distance and thus a larger perspective on her life. This makes sense given that she is a freshman at a prestigious university and in the process of working through new emotions. She is essentially in a foreign world.

I like how The Idiot features a more intellectual take on college life. It captures the college experience for many students: it encompasses none of the extremes, but there's a sense of falling in a void with no clear way out. Like many students, Selin struggles to find, or create, an exit, and she will eventually come to a conclusion that will make the reader reflect on their own life story up to this point.

What I didn't like so much is partially the result of my own coming-of-age story. Having gone through the college experience, I used to be in a similar position to Selin. I even went through the confusion of first love there (though a couple years later than Selin). The answers I found were very different, and so the last lines of The Idiot felt like a void had opened, sucking in everything that had just taken place and making me wonder what just happened.

While The Idiot didn't end up being for me, it was definitely an interesting reading experience. I can see this novel generating good discussion, especially in circles that have more knowledge and appreciation for the nuances in literary styles and literary influences.

Would I read another work by Elif Batuman? I wouldn't be opposed to it. Batuman is a masterful writer, and I look forward to seeing what she presents to us next!



A portrait of the artist as a young woman. A novel about not just discovering but inventing oneself.

The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings.

At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan's friends. On the way, she spends two weeks visiting Paris with Svetlana. Selin's summer in Europe does not resonate with anything she has previously heard about the typical experiences of American college students, or indeed of any other kinds of people. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.




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CHAT WITH ME


Which classic story do you consider a mirror to your own life? (Or, what was your most memorable experience freshman year?)


Publication Info
  • The Idiot by Elif Batuman
  • Published by Penguin Press
  • On March 14, 2017
  • Genres: Contemporary
  • Pages: 448 Pages
  • Format: Hardcover
Series
  • N/A
Content
  • start

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.



GIVEAWAY


Thanks to the publisher, I have a copy of The Idiot to give away to one lucky winner on the continental USA!

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