Category: review

Sydney and Calvin Have a Baby: A Book Review

One of the coolest things about blogging is getting free books in exchange for sharing my honest opinion of them here.  As I might have mentioned, I love books.  I love them so much that I have big stacks of them and so sometimes I don’t review them as quickly as I am supposed to.
But not this one! Sydney and Calvin Have a Baby has such a compelling premise that I could hardly wait to read it.  And since William had to have a root canal this week, I had a perfect opportunity to do it all in one sitting.  In fact, I had just a few pages left and I read them while sitting in the Arby’s drive-thru on the way home because I just HAD to know what happened.
I read a lot of young adult novels because my daughter loves the genre and brings them to my attention. But this one is different for a couple of reasons–one, it’s a specifically Catholic novel, and two, it starts with a rape and ends with a baby.
That’s pretty heavy stuff for a teen novel, and let’s throw in a couple of deaths, an orphan, mean girls, a close call at the abortion clinic, and dysfunctional families aplenty.  But the lovable, quirky main characters and the fresh narrative voice (Calvin, whose British accent you can almost hear) add humor and humanity without ever glossing over the truly terrible events in the story.
Perhaps when you think of a Catholic novel you imagine characters who pray all the time, lots of priests and nuns, and plenty of preaching.  That’s not what you’ll find here.  The Catholicism is mostly background–the kids go to a Catholic school, the families are nominally Catholic in that they go to Mass on Sunday and not much else.  The only truly devout Catholic we see is Calvin, and the Catholic heart of the story is in its redemptive message.
I enjoyed this novel so much that I would love to read more about Sydney and Calvin.  I would especially recommend it for a Catholic youth discussion group.

Author:  Adrienne Thorne

Publisher:  Gracewatch Media



Use the above link, or the one in the first paragraph, to purchase this book, and I will receive a small commission.

WINC: A Wine Club for You (Sponsored)

I’m back again with a new US Family Guide offer that I am pretty sure y’all are going to like! I’ve been chosen to partner with a wine delivery club, which means (you guessed it!) FREE WINE for me, in exchange for promoting an offer to my readers and offering my honest opinion after I get my wine.
Here is what I have been asked to tell you about Winc:
Winc is not your traditional wine club: we are a direct-distribution global wine company that personalizes the entire wine experience.  We are perfecting how wine is made, distributed, perceived and purchased via our Palate Profile quiz that recommends wine based on your unique tastes and enjoyed by a new generation of wine drinkers. It takes the hassle and guesswork out of picking a bottle from your local liquor store and delivers the perfect bottles directly to your doorstep. We do all this as part of our quest to improve the experience for consumers, create a platform for artisanal winemaking, and build a grape-to-glass supply chain that’s sustainable for the planet. No more intimidating language and steep price points, and more joy in the act of sharing a bottle.
wine, wine delivery, subscription, coupon, offer, deal
My Readers Save $22 Off Your First Month of Winc!  Winc offers 4 personalized wines each month. Bottles start at $13 each. 
Go to: www.trywinc.com/usfamilyguide
I’ll be back, as always, to let you know what I think after my bottles arrive.

The Ring I Always Wanted: Sponsored Review

I told y’all a few weeks ago that I was going to be getting a ring from Mama’s Jewelry in exchange for my honest opinion here.  Well, it arrived last week and here is my honest opinion:  I LOVE IT!
ring
The ordering process for this was only hard because there were so many choices.  There are many, many styles.  There are different metals available.  You can upgrade to actual gemstones if you want.  And if you’d rather have some other form of jewelry, you can do that too.
My ring is sterling silver plate.  I didn’t choose to upgrade anything.  I did have to pay an upcharge because my fingers are fat.  I don’t like that, but I’m used to having to do it for clothes already so it’s not like it’s a practice that is unique to Mama’s Jewelry.  If your fingers are NOT fat, you will pay only $69 for this ring.
You can have as many as ten birthstones in this ring, should you be blessed with a large family.  Because I have only six children, they filled in the extra space with synthetic diamonds–this happens to be my own birthstone, which makes it even better!
I’m especially happy to have this ring because I was able to include a stone in remembrance of our last baby, who was miscarried.  I love having that tangible reminder right there on my finger.
The only thing I don’t like about my ring is that two of my children just had to be born in the same month.  It bothers me that two of the stones are the same, but at least they aren’t next to each other!
Save $10 with Code_ MAMAS10

When We Were Eve: Finding Eden in a Fallen World

Eve.
The first woman.  The mother of all the living.  Adam’s companion.
What do you think of when I say her name?  How do you picture her?  Are your thoughts positive–or negative?
when we were eve
When I was offered a copy of this book by a representative of Franciscan Media in exchange for my honest review, I wondered what the title could mean, and my thoughts weren’t positive.  My gut reaction was to think of Eve as that weak and sinful woman who brought sin and death into the world through pride and disobedience, dragging Adam and all the rest of us down with her.
And my reaction is kind of the whole point of the book.  Our feelings about Eve mirror our feelings about ourselves–women who are no longer able to walk before God naked and unashamed.
But Colleen Mitchell encourages us to go back to Eden, to think about how Eve must have been before the Fall, to empathize with the weakness that led her to sin, and to discover our own “Eden instinct” that draws us to seek God’s original desires for us.
She encourages us to remember how good it was when God first made the world, and especially the unique place woman held as His final creation:  “As the culmination of God’s creative love, we arrive at the shaping of woman . . . in all the world, nothing exists that can fulfill the need for woman.”
This is a book that begs to be read carefully and prayerfully, and probably several times.  It would be ideal for a women’s book and/or prayer group.  Each chapter includes quotations from Scripture, reflections by the author, a story from an individual woman about her journey back to Eden, and questions for further study.  It concludes with a section of benedictions for your body that are incredibly moving.
This book made me cry more than once.   The personal stories shared in each chapter brought to mind some of my own struggles with body image issues.  As most women know, this is an incredibly painful topic that many would rather avoid than confront as this book encourages its readers to do.
But this is a joyful book, too, because it offers us hope that we CAN make our way back to Eden, and I recommend it to any woman who would like to reclaim some of that original joy.
franciscan media
 

They See a Family: Book Review

As a somewhat sheepish occasional reader of Christian romance novels, I have been wishing for years that there was a Catholic equivalent.  So when Catholic author Amanda Hamm asked if I would like to read her latest novel (for free, in exchange for my honest review) I was super excited.
That said, being used to the Protestant take on the genre, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot–a light read, something to wile away an afternoon with a hint of Catholicism thrown in.  I am delighted to tell you that They See a Family is so much more than that.
TheySeeaFamily
This is a sweet story that starts tragically, when the main character, Kay Donovan, learns that her sister and brother-in-law have died in a car crash while out for a rare evening alone, leaving Kay to care for two babies under the age of two.  Trapped in her apartment with her nephews and without their car seats, Kay immediately calls her friend William to help.
William is adorably awkward and has had a crush on Kay for awhile.  He instantly steps in and becomes an intrinsic part of Kay’s life as she leans on him for help with her new role.  Their friendship deepens and Kay starts to think of William as father/husband material.  But neither knows the other’s true feelings and misunderstandings abound.  Can they solve these problems to become a real family?
Well, of course they can because this is a romance and has to have a happy ending! But that doesn’t render the emotional resonance along the way any less real and rewarding.  I especially appreciate the many little homely details that are included starting with the problem of the car seats at the very beginning.  I also love the glimpses into William’s and Kay’s minds.  With their confusion and insecurities they seem very realistic, as well as likable.
As for the faith aspect, it’s more understated than in the Protestant romances I have read.  William and Kay are Catholic and talk about attending Mass together.  Eventually they seek the advice of a priest about their relationship.  They have a chaste courtship and their attempts to discuss sex are embarrassing for both of them.  I loved the subtle pro-life touch of William having a mentally disabled brother who is included in the story without making a big point about it.
They See a Family is available for pre-order on Amazon.   I’m so happy to have been introduced to Amanda Hamm’s work and am looking forward to reading more.

Not of This World: Finding Peace through Minimalism

There’s something about a new year. isn’t there?  So fresh and clean with none of the last year’s mistakes . . . yet.  It’s natural to want to apply the newness to our lives, to make them fresh and clean as well.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who resolves to tackle household clutter at this time of year.  When it’s cold out, we naturally spend more time indoors enjoying cozy pursuits, and I have a hard time relaxing when my house is making me feel unhappy and anxious.
I wrote a super popular post a few years ago, about our American problem with too much stuff, and last year I acquired the popular minimalism guide by Marie Kondo.  And I made some progress, but this is going to be my year.
Because last year I read a book that didn’t only talk about minimalism and explain it.  This book anchored it in Catholicism, and that’s an unbeatable combination.
not of this world
Sterling Jaquith, the author of Not of This World  (which I was given by the author in exchange for my honest opinion in this post) hit the nail on the head when she wrote this: “Nothing in this world will ever really satisfy us.  Our ultimate desire will always be for God, and that is why I believe all Catholics should embrace a lifestyle of minimalism.”  This makes so much sense to me.  Our consumeristic culture encourages us to fill our emptiness with more and more stuff, but it never ends, does it?  We are always looking toward the next “must-have” item.
As my readers know, I was forced into minimalism a few years ago when my house burned down.  I was involuntarily relieved of the burden of too much stuff.  My relationship to the things of this world was changed instantly, and the result is that clutter I might have once not given a second glance now makes me anxious.  I have intentionally chosen to acquire very few extraneous personal possessions, and I ruthlessly get rid of things regularly, but the stuff seems to pile up anyway.
I find this overwhelming, and the problem is hard to tackle.  I need help, and this book provides it.  The opening chapters explain minimalism, and offer personal examples of what can happen to people who live their lives piling up possessions.  I recently traveled to Baltimore to help my mother-in-law go through some of the stuff in her home of more than 60 years prior to her moving into a small apartment.  She is very happy in her new place, but getting rid of her possessions has been very hard–not just logistically, but emotionally.  How much easier not to buy things and become attached to them in the first place!
Sterling goes on to remind us of the minimalist beginnings of Christianity–Jesus was born in a stable, after all!  His followers were poor, and throughout the ages those in religious lives have continued to vow poverty.  Following their example will bring us peace and space: “We’re going to create more space in our lives to connect with the Lord . . . The more we follow His will, the more peace we have and deep down, this is what we all desire.”
For me, this focus on Christianity is what sets the book apart from other minimalism guides and makes it uniquely motivating for me.  But that doesn’t mean the other stuff is neglected!  Much of the book involves detailed week-by-week and room-by-room instructions for decluttering, along with access to printable worksheets to help you do it.  There are also special sections for larger families, homeschooling families, and people who live in small spaces.
I am starting on Monday to follow Sterling’s program.  Buy the book right here and you can do it too!  Even better, you can join in online and get explanatory and motivations videos from Sterling and feedback from other people going through the program!

Praying as a Family

Catholic blogger fail confession time–we are not That Catholic Family that does a  morning blessing, says grace before every meal, and prays a nightly rosary.   Not even close.
It’s not that we haven’t had good intentions.  We’ve tried off and on over the many, many years (26 and counting, y’all) of having kids to come up with a family prayer routine that stuck.  But to everything there is a season, and some of our seasons have been more fruitful in this area than others.
Every morning, John prays with William in the car on the way to school.  And he did this with the big kids from the time they were little kids.  I love that he does this.  And right now we are rocking the family evening prayer because Advent.  But we need to do better and I found something that might help.
CFBP-cover-1
 
Gracewatch Media has just published a lovely book by Jerry Windley-Daoust of Peanut Butter and GraceThe Catholic Family Book of Prayers is available for preview and/or purchase in a variety of formats right here.  I was provided with a free copy in exchange for my honest review, and I am going to cherish it always because it is a beautiful book that every Catholic family should have it their library.
Seriously, before I go any further I suggest you buy this book right now if you need a wedding gift, a new baby or baptism gift, or an RCIA gift (or of course a Christmas gift for the Catholic families you know!).
The book is aptly subtitled A Treasury of Prayers and Meditations for Families to Pray Together because it really is a treasure.  The content alone–basically every important Catholic prayer–would be enough to give it this status but this little volume packs in so much more:  illustrations varying in style but all beautiful, explanations of prayers and traditions along with support from the Catechism, suggestions of different ways to pray, and inspirational quotations on prayer from the saints are just some of what you will find within.
I hope this book will help me to continue our family’s evening prayer routine once Advent comes to a close.  Please do your family a favor and buy a copy!
the catholic family book of prayers

“The best form of prayer is one that . . . makes space for the presence of God within us.”

~ Saint Basil the Great

SPONSORED REVIEW: Watch Ya' Mouth Throwdown Edition

Do you like board games?  Do you like silly physical challenges?  Do you like laughing hysterically?  If so, you are probably going to like this game, which I received free as a U.S. Family Guide blogger in exchange for my honest review.
watch your mouth 2
So Watch Ya’ Mouth, Throwdown Edition, is a game that makes use of mouthpieces, which judging from a recent trip to Walgreens, is apparently a thing.  Who knew?  I don’t watch t.v., y’all, and my kids ask for things like statues of Egyptian gods and rare stuffed animals from eBay, so I’m not exactly up on the trends. 🙂
You can get more information about the game, and even see a video of it being played, on my original post.  I’m going to share a more detailed explanation of how it works in this post.
So first of all, I’m kind of misspeaking when I call it a board game because there isn’t a board.  There are cards, and balls, and mouthpieces, and straws, and party horns, and a timer.  Plus you may need some common household items like spoons or tissues.  But don’t worry–if a particular challenge calls for something that isn’t handy, you can improvise.  In fact, improvising and having house rules are encouraged in this game, which doesn’t take itself too seriously.  This isn’t Trivial Pursuit, y’all.
Without going into too much detail, when it’s your turn, you roll the die to determine who you are challenging, then both of you insert mouthpieces and perform the challenge on the Throwdown card.  Whoever succeeds first wins the card. There are several possible categories of challenges.  In the “Picture Perfect” challenges, players must draw objects by holding pencils in their mouths.  The “Ping Pong Pop” challenges involve passing balls around on spoons held in mouths.  “Suck It Up” challenges use straws to–yes, guessed it–suck things up.  This is only a very small sampling of the challenges provided.
In addition to the Throwdown cards, there are Phrase cards which are used in some challenges.  For example, in the “So Much Drama” challenge, players must recite a phrase from a Phrase card in a particular emotion.  Other challenges simply involve guessing the phrase, not super easy to do when considering both the mouthpiece and the obscurity of the phrases, for example: “Bar Soap Bubbles Up” and “Fairy Flower House.”
In case you were wondering, a game lasts four rounds, a round being complete when every player has had one turn.  Whoever has the most cards at the end wins.  You can see the game in action below:


So now what you’ve all been waiting for:  my honest opinion.  The game has lots and lots of cards with many creative options and a wide variety of challenges.  You won’t do them all in one sitting and then get bored.  If your family likes this kind of game, then you will enjoy Watch Ya Mouth Throwdown Edition.
Me, I don’t like this game.  But it’s not the game’s fault, it’s mine.  It’s just not the kind of thing I enjoy and if I’d been paying more attention on the front end I would not have asked to review it.
Many people do like this game very much, including Toy Insider and Amazon.  Throwdown Edition was already been awarded Top Holiday Toy of 2017 by Toy Insider and was selected for the 2017 Amazon Holiday Toy List.
So if you are like those people and not a boring party pooper like me, and you want a hilarious family game to play during the holidays, your search is over. Just click here and use code 15WYM for 15% off!
wymgame3

SPONSORED Review: Sun Tail Mermaid

Y’all remember Splash, right?  About the mermaid who became human and walked the streets of New York?  And of course before that there was Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Little Mermaid, most recently re-interpreted by Disney.   In our popular imagination, mermaids long to leave the sea to become human, even if only for a little while.
Meanwhile, in the real world, little girls imagine being mermaids.  When I was a little girl back in the carefree 70s, spending hours every summer day in the pool, I had to try to swim with my legs together and just pretend.  But because I am a US Family Guide blogger and get to try products for free in exchange for my honest review, Lorelei’s mermaid dreams are a little more realistic!
Sun Tail makes wearable, swimmable mermaid tails out of swimsuit material.  They come in many colors–the hardest part of this whole process was deciding which one to buy.  In addition to the beautiful tails, they make monofins that fit inside the tail to complete your mermaid swimming experience.
suntails3
You can read more details about the product and company by clicking here for my first post from a few weeks ago.  In this post I want to share what Lorelei (and I) thought of the mermaid tail I ordered for her.
First of all, it’s really pretty and comfortable.  Also, it fits very nicely, and she practiced walking in it (without the monofin!), and there is totally enough stretch to make that possible.  The monofin is extremely well-made and durable, with pockets for your feet as well as three straps to make sure it stays on.  The whole thing comes with detailed instructions, and special guards to protect the delicate fabric of the tail from being torn by the monofin.
Unfortunately, it is winter, and we don’t have access to an indoor pool, so the best I can do is promise you (as Lorelei insisted I must) that at our first opportunity we will try the tail out in water to see how it performs.
If you want to make a little girl’s mermaid dream come true this Christmas I have an offer for you:
Receive a 10% discount on your order at www.SunTailMermaid.com by entering this code: BestGiftEver.  (And don’t worry–they haven’t forgotten about little boys as you can see in the picture below.)
suntails1

SPONSORED REVIEW: Package from Santa

packagefromsanta2
A couple of weeks ago I told y’all about this cool company that helps add a little magic to your child’s Christmas.  I received a letter, phone call, and video from Santa–all personalized–in exchange for my honest review.
First of all, let me explain how all this works.  You purchase the package of your choice (all components are available separately–the silver package is what I received and am reviewing here).  Then you customize everything just the way you want it on the website.  This is explained clearly and is very easy.  And you don’t have to do it all at once.  I did the letter first and then came back a couple of days later to figure out the video, and then last of all, the phone call.
There are many, many choices for each component.  I ended up writing my own letter so it was completely personalized.  There are templates to choose instead if you aren’t feeling super creative.  You also get to choose from several videos and telephone calls.  These are personalized with a picture of your child that you upload, and details such as age, birthday, and what they may have done to get on Santa’s nice list this year!
The letter was my (and Lorelei’s) favorite.  She was totally surprised and mystified.  The letter also came with a signed photo of Santa and a Nice List certificate.
packagefromsanta4
I was a little confused about how the whole phone call thing would work but it’s pretty clever.  You download a free app on your phone and then schedule the call for when you want it to come in.  Then you get a notification when it is scheduled and you have to confirm it.  Once you locate your child you hit a button to accept the call.  And you set a delay that causes a black screen to appear so that it really looks like a phone call coming in!
The video is sent to your email when it is ready and then it’s up to you how and when to share it with your child.  You can purchase it on DVD as well if you like.  The phone call is saved on the app like a voice mail, so you can treasure this experience forever and your child can listen over and over again.
I was impressed by the quality of this product and by the user-friendliness of the process.  I would recommend this either for smaller kids or for fun for non-believers (there are even options aimed specifically at adults!).  I would NOT recommend it to a savvy eight year old who will spot the video/audio editing immediately.
newsilver
It’s not too late to order your very own Package from Santa!
Go to the website and save 25% OFF your order when you use FAMS17 at checkout.  Hurry–you have until December 15, 2017!

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