Saturday, February 13, 2021

Roots of Wood and Stone by Amanda Wen

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

With the cold days of winter holding us firmly in its grip, it has been so nice to head to bed a little early each night and snuggle up under my covers to read. The book that I most recently read was the new Roots of Wood and Stone by Amanda Wen. The format of this book was differnt than most I have read in the past, the author calls it "inspirational split-time women’s fiction". The story was told within two separate time lines: a current and contemporary story, told alongside a historical story. Sloane is a historical museum curator. When Garrett comes by to drop off what Sloane perceiveds to be an ordinary satchel and other trinkets, she expects it is a bunch of things that she has no use for but soon discovers tucked into the satchel is a 19th century diary written by a young girl. It is this first found diary, and others that start to surface, that provide the storyline and narration about Annabelle, who lived in Sedgwick County, Kansas starting in the 1870s as a young girl and growing into a woman. It is the ongoing discovery of diaries and pictures that Garrett and his sister find at his grandma's house that begins to intertwine the stories of Sloane and Garrett. With each new discovery, he is excited to share the new find with her and finds himself pulled into the story, intrigued and wanting to help uncover more about Annabelle and how her story is connected to his grandma and her house.

One thing that I find interesting is that my newsfeed over the past week has had many posts and new stories about found pictures, diaries, documents, uncovered as people are remodeling their homes or found tucked away in an attic or basement. I've always been intrigued by the past and so I find those stories to be interesting on their own and certainly hope that those items find a family connection. However, coupling those stories with the book that I was reading, I found it strangely coincidental the timing of seeing those stories, given the pictures, the diaries and the history that they are discovering in the book as Garrett and his sister are cleaning out his grandma's house.

I enjoyed how the present day characters come to learn more about themselves through the discovery of the history of their community and family and the connections that they discovered and developed through this exploration. The interweaving of the two timelines is smoothly executed and really kept the story moving and the reader wanting to learn more. The story was filled with beautifully descriptive language delivering real-feeling details about the characters and the house that ties the stories together. I really enjoyed getting to know Sloane, Garrett, Annabelle and Jack, and appreciated the development of each of the love stories. Genearlly, the character development was good but there were many threads left unexplored that had me wanting to learn more about the characters, both past and present.

After I finished reading, I immediately went to look for what else the author had written and was surprised to discover that this story was Wen's debut novel. The cover references Sedgwick County Chronicles, so I am hopeful that there will be more stories to come in the series. And, as is always my hope when I discover friends in a book, I hope that when there are more books in the series that some of the same characters will be present, even as an adjacent character to the main story, just to remain connected and perhaps learn a little bit more about them too.

About the Book
This historic home holds the keys to their destiny . . . and their hearts

Abandoned at birth, her family roots a mystery, historical museum curator Sloane Kelley has dedicated her life to making sure others know theirs. When a donor drops off a dusty old satchel, she doesn't expect much from the common artifact . . .until she finds real treasure inside: a nineteenth-century diary. Now she's on the hunt to find out more.

Garrett Anderson just wanted to clean out his grandmother's historic but tumbledown farmhouse before selling it to fund her medical care. With her advancing Alzheimer's, he can't afford to be sentimental about the family home. But his carefully ordered plan runs up against two formidable obstacles: Sloane, who's fallen in love with both the diaries and the house, and his own heart, which is irresistibly drawn to Sloane.

A century and a half earlier, motherless Annabelle Collins embarks with her aunt and uncle on the adventure of a lifetime: settling the prairies of Sedgwick County, Kansas. The diaries she left behind paint a portrait of life, loss, and love--and a God who faithfully carries her through it all. Paging through the diaries together takes Sloane and Garrett on a journey they never could have planned, which will change them in ways they never imagined.

This warm, beautifully written split-time novel will resonate with readers looking for stories that reveal the beauty of God's plan for our lives, and how our actions ripple for generations.

About the Author
Amanda Wen is an award-winning writer of inspirational romance and split-time women’s fiction. She has placed first in multiple writing contests, including the 2017 Indiana Golden Opportunity, the 2017 Phoenix Rattler, and the 2016 ACFW First Impressions contests. She was also a 2018 ACFW Genesis Contest finalist.

Wen is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and regularly contributes author interviews for their Fiction Finder feature. She also frequently interviews authors for her blog and is a contributor to the God Is Love blog. Her debut novel, Roots of Wood and Stone, releases from Kregel Publications on February 2, 2021.

In addition to her writing, Wen is an accomplished professional cellist and pianist who frequently performs with orchestras, chamber groups, and her church’s worship team. She serves as a choral accompanist as well. A lifelong denizen of the flatlands, Wen lives in Kansas with her patient, loving, and hilarious husband, their three adorable Wenlets, and a snuggly Siamese cat.

To find Amanda Wen’s blog and short stories, visit www.amandawen.com. Readers can also follower her on Facebook (@AuthorAmandaWen), Twitter (@AuthorAmandaWen), and Instagram (@authoramandawen).


No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Remedial Rocket Science by Susannah Nix

Having gone to college for engineering and starting my career as an engineer, I found myself frequently in classes and on teams where the members were primarily male. In college, I joined SWE and was in an all engineering sorority. After school, it was important to me to have connections that could relate. Initially, most of these connections were co-workers in other STEM based careers. Then, a few years ago, I found and joined a mom's group on Facebook specifically for engineers. It is a great community and I enjoy the opportunity to ask questions of like-minded women, share 'nerdy' humor and help others by sharing my perspective on some of their questions. A few weeks ago, someone in that group posted about a book that they were going to check out called Remedial Rocket Science. I pulled up the description for it and thought, I want to check that out too. Our local library only had the e-book, so I had to request it through the library network. It took a while to arrive but as soon as I finished the last book, I started reading this one.
Remedial Rocket Science was the first book in the Chemistry Lessons series by author, Susannah Nix. The series is described on her website as "…standalone romantic comedies feature smart, geeky STEM heroines who discover that romantic chemistry isn’t as predictable as the laws of science…"

The book was awesome to read. Having come from a STEM background myself, I loved having a heroine who seemed to have similar priorities, interests and challenges to those that I had faced as a woman in STEM. We meet Melody at the end of her freshman year at MIT, when she meets a young man named Jeremy, who is visiting a friend in Boston for the weekend. They spend the evening connecting and exchange numbers before parting ways with the promise to reach out if he returns to Boston or she finds herself in LA. Fast forward three years and Melody is headed to California for a job interview and decides to reach out to Jeremy. They meet up for coffee while she is in town for her interview for an IT position as a local company and again when she moves out there. She learns that he has a girlfriend, amongst other things that keep her from being able to reconnect with him like she had back in Boston. This leaves Melody feeling a little bit alone in a new town, being in IT she works with a number of men, many of whom don't pay much attention or know who she is.

Melody meets Jeremy's girlfriend Lacey one night at dinner and Lacey later invites her to yoga. They become friends, spending time together at yoga and coffee after, run into each other at the company picnic and other events. Over time, their friendship did grow and there was one point where Melody reluctantly let Lacey set her up on a date with a guy ("what was it with people that were happily in a coupled wanting the rest of the world to be coupled too?"). When Melody first met him, she described him as cute..."one of her favorite flavors of cute". She found that they had some similar interests but generally didn't connect and after the date she reflected, "He wasn't so bad, really. She could see why Lacey had thought they'd hit if off." This whole experience rings so true.

I think one of my favorite quotes though is "Her feelings for [him] were like Schrodinger's Crush. As long as she didn't open the box, their relationship existed in a state of quantum superposition: both possible and impossible at the same time. She was too much of a wimp to find out whether the cat was alive or dead." What a great reapplication of a quantum theory!

Remedial Rocket Science was a very enjoyable book. It was a quick, easy read with the right length chapters to keep the story moving. The characters were well developed and so relatable.

If you are looking for a contemporary, romantic comedy story, I would highly recommend checking out this book. There are five more books in this series and she also has a number of other books. I think that I have found myself a new author. In fact, I already have requested the second book through the library network: Intermediate Thermodynamics.

What are you reading?

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Trailing a Killer by Carol J. Post

A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

It's no secret, I love to read. I always have. And, once I start a book, I just want to keep reading. I have been known to take the book I am reading with me for a 10 minute car ride so I can sneak in a little extra reading and I have stayed up much later than intended to read 'just one more chapter'. This is especially true with a book that pulls you in and makes you unwilling to put it down. This was the case with Trailing a Killer by Carol J. Post. This book offered both a great non-stop suspenseful plot and touching love story.

From the beginning, the reader is dropped into the middle of the action as we join Erin and her rescue dog, Alcee on their way to a collapsed building during a storm for a rescue mission. She soon discovers that one of the people in the collapsed building is a man that she had a summer romance with in her youth - Cody, putting a more personal touch and interest to the overall situation and case. As the story unfolds, we start to learn more about their past together and with time, the things that had shaped them since they last saw one another. It is through this sharing that Erin also shares with Cody about her faith and he begins to explore his own. Through this progressive exposure of information, the characters are well developed and I found them to be very relateable.

As many young men would, Cody doesn't want to believe he is at risk after learning what caused the house to collapse and continues on with activities he perceives as 'lower' risk when Erin suggests he keep a low profile. It isn't until he finds himself nearly run off a bridge and dodging bullets in a parking lot that he realizes that he truly is at risk. It is only then that he agrees to essentially go into hiding but still winds up finding himself coming close to danger and in dangerous situations that could have gotten him killed because he is so trusting. Fortunately, he recognized the situation soon enough and was able to avert danger. Each time I thought I new who was after Cody, I decided I was wrong and I found myself trying to guess their identity to the end; it certainly was a surprise to me!

The story was quick moving, action and anxiety packed and the characters were very likeable, making the story very engaging. If you enjoy suspense stories, you should definitely check out this book and the others by Carol J. Post.

About the Book:

A killer with an explosive agenda…

And a K-9 and determined detective on the case.

In a hurricane’s aftermath, Detective Erin Jeffries is stunned when she and her search-and-rescue K-9, Alcee, uncover a collapsed building’s only survivor—her long-ago ex, Cody Elbourne. And it’s quickly clear that the disaster was no accident. Now only Cody can identify the man who set the explosives that killed his grandfather…and Erin must stop the killer dead set on silencing him.

About the Author:
From medical secretary to court reporter to property manager to owner of a special events decorating company, Carol's resume reads like someone who doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up. But one thing that has remained constant through the years is her love for writing. She started as a child writing poetry for family and friends, then graduated to articles which actually made it into some religious and children's publications. Several years ago (more than she's willing to admit), she penned her first novel. In 2010, she decided to get serious about writing fiction for publication and joined Romance Writers of America and her local RWA chapter.

Carol lives in sunshiny Central Florida with her husband of thirty-two years, who is her own real-life hero, and writes her stories under the shade of the huge oaks in her yard. Besides writing, she works alongside her music minister husband singing and playing the piano and holds the position of church treasurer. She enjoys sailing, hiking, camping, almost anything outdoors. Her two grown daughters and grandkids live too far away for her liking, so she now pours all that nurturing into taking care of three fat and sassy cats and one highly spoiled dog.

You can learn more
about the author on her blog.



No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Cozy Winter Days and Nights

A complimentary Puffy Blanket was provided to enable this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. 

December 1st: A little early in the season for my liking but here in NEO, it is a blustery and snowy day. The kids are glad to be home on their first official snow day of the school year. It means a day filled with cuddling up to read and to watch movies and television. This means that everyone will grab for their favorite blanket as they look to stay cozy while the snow blows around outside.

Blankets have always been a big deal for us. I think it started when I was a kid. I had that special afghan that Grandma made me and I remember using it in the family room as we hung out watching tv, curling up under it while I read and sleeping tucked in beneath it at night. When I got my first apartment, having a cozy bed with fluffy and cozy blankets was a must. It was part of my vision for my new place. When we became homeowners and went on vacation, a blanket was the souvenier of choice on more than a couple of trips. Last year, I had the opportunity to learn to make a chunky knit blanket and then came home and helped my daughter make another one for herself.

Blankets are a great add for themed gifts too. A popcorn bucket, some candy and a pack of popcorn, a couple of DVDs, a cozy blanket and socks for watching movies is one example of a basket that I have put together for friends. One year, I did a Christmas themed basket for friends that just bought a new house. I filled it with a Christmas print blanket, a new home ornament, some candy canes and hot chocolate and two mugs. Another theme where a blanket is a great addition is a Picnic theme basket. Of course, here we need to do an indoor picnic at the holidays. Start with a blanket, include a bottle of wine, a couple of glasses, a corkscrew and some crackers and a charcuterie board.

This year, we have a new family favorite blanket - the luxurious faux fur Puffy Blanket
My daughter was quick to adopt this blanket when it arrived right before Thanksgiving. She describes it as big, cozy and warm. It is the perfect size for using on a bed or covering up while watching your favorite show or reading your favorite book. When I asked what she liked best, the two different sides with different textures to keep you warm. She often debates which side should be on the inside - my answer, whichever one feels best to you.



This blanket is warm, with a cozy texture and available in multiple sizes, making it a perfect gift option for those that long to be cozy. It makes a great housewarming basket gift or a straight up gift to someone that loves blankets like we do.
A complimentary Puffy Blanket was provided to enable this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family.


Monday, November 16, 2020

24 Days of Tea Advent Calendar and 12 Days of Tea Gift Set

A complimentary Tea Advent Calendar and 12 Days of Tea Gift Set was provided to enable this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. 

When I was a kid, I was not a fan of tea. I'm not sure where or when I had had it but I remember thinking that it was without flavor and left a 'dry' aftertaste in my mouth. I knew that I also had tried and didn't care for sun tea. My feelings about hot tea changed when I was in high school. I had a really good friend that was a fan of tea and when I was at her house to work on a project or doing homework, she would often times drink tea but it wasn't plain tea. Rather she was always drinking different flavors and the aroma was enticing. I think the first tea that she had me try was a peppermint tea around the holidays. There was something that was so good about the fresh pop of the flavor. She also introduced me to apple cinnamon, lemon, and probably a few other flavors.

As I got older, I became more adventurous and liked to try new flavors. Dining out, hotel breakfast bars, and offerings at business meetings were the easiest places to try new flavors and further experience tea. There are a few that are definitely not for me and I have a tendency to primarily purchase herbal teas. I enjoy a mix of loose tea and tea bags. I like the flexibility to adjust the intensity of the tea with loose tea but there is an on the go convenience to bag tea. My tea making supplies expanded with time too. I have a tea kettle for boiling water. I have both a ball infuser that screws together and a snap ball tea strainer. One year for Christmas, I received a carafe with a center infuser that allows me to make several cups at once. A few years ago, I picked up a ToastTEA travel tea infuser from Adagio tea which makes taking loose tea on teh go a little easier.

Winter is my favorite hot tea season and it is my go to beverage when I am looking for something warm in the afternoon or evening. Lately, I have been preparing myself a mug of tea after the work day winds down. Being at home, makes the transition a little different but I have found that putting up my feet and sipping on tea is such a great way to relax and unwind. I think that with all that is going on, the ability to take a few minutes of down time and relax is an important thing for mental health.

If you are looking for a gift for someone on your list, check out these two items from Adagio tea. The 12 Days of Christmas Tea Gift Set comes with 12 varieties of tea, each in it's own tin that you can hang from your tea or stack for a cute ornament image. I love that they are each ornaments that you can hang in your tree. How fun it would be to seek each numbered tin on the tree. The teas include: White Pear, Rooibos Peacan Turtle, Lavender Lemon, Candy Cane, Golden Monkey, Jasmine Pheonix Pearls, Blue Mango, Cream, Cha Cha, Earl Grey Bravo, Fruit Medley, Rooibos Nutcracker. I'm curious to see what Golden Monkey is and the Rooibos Nutcracker I am expecting to love. Of course, it not only makes a great gift for the poeple on your list but you may also decide to make it a gift for yourself and experience the twelve flavors.

Looking for a unique Advent calendar? This Tea Advent Calendar from Adagio makes an 8 oz serving of tea each day, as you count down to the holidays.
It gets the thumbs up from my daughter, as she noted, the numbers are not in order, which from her point of view makes for a better Advent calendar.
I was thinking that buying one for your friends and family, could be a fun way for everyone to connect through a common experience. Enjoying a cup of the same tea while video chatting with your friends or family could help bring your together in a year where there is real potential that more families are apart during this time of year than normal. With 24 unique teas, you will have the chance to try many flavors. If you are enjoying it as a group, perhaps you could make a chart and rate the groups' favorites. The added bonus is that you would then have insite and could order more of their favorite tea as a gift in the future.

Do you have a favorite variety or flavor of tea? Who in your family would enjoy these gifts?

A complimentary Tea Advent Calendar and 12 Days of Tea Gift Set was provided to enable this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family.


Sunday, November 15, 2020

Just Under 6 Weeks to Christmas!

For as long as 2020 has felt, it is so crazy to think that Christmas is less than 6 weeks away. I think I am ready to start getting out Christmas decorations and adding a little extra cheer. There are already a handful of houses where I have seen Christmas lights and other decorations and it makes me smile.

I expect the holidays will feel different this year. We don't often travel for Thanksgiving, so it will probably be similar for us, with the exception of no plans for Black Friday shopping. Sales have started early this year, which I guess has been nice. When my mixer that had served me well for 25 years stopped working a few weeks ago, I was able to take advantage of a Black Friday deal at Target to pick one up without even going in the store. In fact, I imagine a lot more of my shopping will be online this year. I have been doing a majority of my shopping online with shipping or curbside services since March. I have always been a look and see shopper, so this was quite an adjustment for me. I have returned to buying produce in person because the items I was getting through pick up services were not to my liking.

The gatherings that normally fill my schedule for Christmas will look a lot different this year. The normal outings with girlfriends and friends, I assume will fall to the wayside this year, especially if our governor decides to close restaurants for 4-6 weeks as is currently being speculated. There won't be carry ins or outings for work. I assume that the extended family, for the first time in my life, will not be planning a family get together with family, food, and gifts. It is always a great time, a chance to see cousins that I don't get to see through out the year. With over 100 people though, it just isn't likely. Assuming that it makes sense, we do hope to see my family over the holidays for a family dinner after the holidays.

I think that gifts might be a little different this year. In part, the difference will be driven by shopping online. Plus, as the kids get older, their lists of wants and needs seems to be getting smaller. I have turned back on my Gift Guide link on the side bar. It will lead you to not only new posts from this year but ideas that I have shared over the years. I continue to stand by my approach of Foster Imagination, Stimulate Creativity, Challenge Their Problem Solving and Stretch Their Minds. I am a big fan of experiences, over things but that might be harder this year with concerts, plays, musicals, escape rooms, laser tag, and other like things being postponed/closed.

How do you shop? How will your plans change this year?