Monday, September 15, 2014

The Homesick Texan's Family Table

The Homesick Texan's Family Table: Lone Star Cooking From My Kitchen To Yours by Lisa Fain is a beautiful hardcover Tex-Mex cookbook. Lisa Fain is a Texas native who's been transplanted to New York and I understand she's a popular food blogger; however, I've never read her blog. I am a cookbook collector and was excited to add a Tex-Mex cookbook to my collection as it's a category I don't have yet and I love Mexican-American food. I've never been to Texas so I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but I did have a general idea. This book is chock full of stories of Lisa growing up in Texas. I loved reading about her family and anecdotes about her grandmother and mother's cooking. This was one of my favorite parts of the cookbook. Sections included are Breakfast and Breads; Starters and Snacks; Salads and Sides; Chilis, Soups, and Stews; The Main Event; Sweets; and Accompaniments. It also includes an introduction with explanations about the recipes, an overview of different types of chiles, a Resource Guide, and Measurement Conversion Charts.

I enjoyed the stories and pictures in this book. Lisa apparently did all the photography for the book herself, so that was a nice touch. I felt like there weren't quite enough pictures of the recipes for me, though. I prefer cookbooks that show all or nearly all of the recipes so I can see the end result before I try the recipe. I also felt like a lot of the recipes weren't really traditional Tex-Mex recipes, but rather a modern/healthier/trendier spin on them. Honestly, I'd prefer the old fashioned original recipes. For example, she mentions that her grandmother's old recipe for Chicken Spaghetti uses cream soup, but she rewrote the recipe and uses a homemade cheese sauce - I'd prefer to see the original recipe, or a comparison of the original next to the new. Also, some of the recipes were downright unappealing (spicy snickerdoodle cookies with chipotle chili powder in them; a German chocolate cake with cayenne pepper). However, there were some great looking recipes that I plan on trying, as well.

I receieved a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Raw Faith

Raw Faith: What Happens When God Picks A Fight by Kasey Van Norman is the story of her struggle through cancer. Just when Kasey thought she had it all - a ministry to women, a family, faith, etc. - her life was shattered with an aggressive form of cancer. She had to decide if she was still going to trust God and follow the message she had been sharing with so many women - to trust God during times of crisis.

This book is less memoir and more Bible study. Kasey draws on a multitude of Bible characters and stories to bring home the points and lessons she learned throughout her battle. I hadn't read Kasey's previous book, Named By God, but now I can't wait to read it. I'd love to learn more about her story - it sounds great. Kasey is extremely honest and vulnerable in this book - she doesn't hold anything back. I appreciate authors who can tell it like it is and not hold back the less pretty aspects of themselves and don't try to sugar coat everything. Kasey is a real woman just like everyone else and isn't afraid to let people know that. This is a very inspiring book. I'd recommend it to any Christian going through a trial.

What Life Are You Waiting For?

What Life Are You Waiting For? by Pete Hise is one of those rare books that can truly propel you into action. The description intrigued me:

"Have you ever stayed up late into the night, wondering if God has more for you than this? Do you keep saying you’ll “eventually” get around to the things you most dream of doing? What Life Are You Waiting For? is a bold, God-sized vision that will inspire you to stop waiting and begin living this life today— like it’s the one you’ve been waiting for. Pete Hise speaks directly to your heart with a truth that’s so personal, so beyond “good enough,” that you may be almost afraid to believe it: The dreams you have for your life can actually happen. Maybe you dream of building a thriving marriage, finding your true calling, learning to hear God’s voice, investing in your kids, or making a lasting impact on the world. Whatever it is, God is with you and is poised to begin . . . right now. He has a bigger plan for you than you’ve dared to imagine—and you don’t have to hesitate any longer to step into it. What life are you waiting for?"

I've read books with big concepts like this before that failed to deliver, so I picked this one up with a grain of salt at first - but it truly delivered. You will catch Hise's vision and desire to start now - not later, not when things are better, not when this or that happens - but right now. It's a super easy read that literally anyone could get through quickly. It's filled with compelling real life stories, examples, and practical helps for your journey. I'd recommend this book to every Christian.

Surprised By Motherhood

Surprised By Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected About Being A Mom is Lisa-Jo Baker's memoir of sorts, of her childhood, the loss of her mom, and becoming a mother. Lisa-Jo lost her mom as a teenager and had determined to never have children. God changed her heart (like He often loves to do when we say "never"), and she became a mom of three children. I had never heard of Lisa-Jo before reading this book, so maybe regular readers of her blog would know more of her background, but I knew nothing coming into the book.

This book is written blog-style - it feels like she's sitting down chatting with you. It was a bit rambling at times, but I was still able to follow the story. It aims to show the messy, inconvenient side of motherhood, not just all the fun moments and mushy stuff. This is a very honest story and didn't sugar coat anything. I couldn't relate a ton about her struggle to have children since I've always wanted to have children. I did enjoy reading about Lisa-Jo's childhood and life, as well as her parenting insights. I'd recommend this book to readers of her blog, or anyone who enjoys Christian memoirs.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Captive In Iran

Captive in Iran: A Remarkable True Story of Hope and Triumph Amid the Horror of Tehran's Brutal Evin Prison by Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh is a captivating account (no pun intended) of Maryam and Marziyeh's arrest and imprisonment for converting from Islam to Christianity and advertising and promoting Christianity (a crime punishable by the death pentalty in Iran). This book walks us through the day of their arrest to the time of their release and briefly describes their immigration to the US. They hold nothing back in telling their story - the horrifying conditions in Evin prison, the other inmates and their stories, the interrogations, the torture, lack of medical care, and more.

This isn't a light and fun story, but I definitely enjoyed reading it. I couldn't believe just how people are living and treated in Iran, and it really opened my eyes to the situation and how desperate and horrifying it truly is. I believe this is an important book for every Christian to read. We have it so easy here compared to how people there are living. What more can we do to help them? This is an important question to ask ourselves. The courage, faith, and strength shown by Maryam and Marziyeh are commendable and truly helped strengthen my own faith. I feel even more blessed to have the opportunities to witness here in the US that I do have, and it compels me to act on them more than I have been.

My only complaint about this book is that I wish that we could've heard more of their story - more about their actions to witness before their arrests (we do hear some, but the story opens on the day of their arrest so they're "flashbacks"), and more about what has happened since their release. The conclusion sums up in just 2 or 3 pages how they fled Iran and fought for their immigration to the US. I do understand that had they explained all this in detail, the size of the book would've doubled - but I would've gladly read it! Also, the typeface was uncomfortably small. Again, I'm sure this is to preserve the length of the book. However, minor complaints, and I hope we hear from both ladies again soon in another book. Highly recommended.

Friday, August 29, 2014


Sweet: Our Best Cupcakes, Cookies, Candy and More is a cookbook put out by the Food Network magazine, and it's a compilation of dozens and dozens of dessert recipes. Sections included are:

-Cupcakes & Whoopie Pies
-Cookies & Bars
-Candy & Snacks
-Pies & Crumbles
-Fake-Out Cakes
-Show-Off Cakes
-Frozen Treats
-Holiday Desserts

This book is absolutely stunning. When I pulled it out of the box and my husband saw it he remarked, "Sweet!" (no pun intended - ha ha) because it looked so wonderful. There is a gorgeous full page color photograph of every single recipe (love this - hate when cookbooks don't show all the recipes). The index for each chapter contains a small photograph of every recipe so you can scan it and quickly find what you're looking for. All the recipes have thorough and clear step-by-step instructions, and the more difficult looking recipes even have photographs of the steps to make it even easier to follow along. All the recipes use common ingredients and pans - so many cookbooks these days use weird ingredients that I'll never find at my local Walmart or supermarket, or unique pans I'd have to order online. Not this one! The recipes are accessible to every home cook. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves to make desserts.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Midwife

The Midwife by Jolina Petersheim is one of those books that I passed over reading for awhile because I'm not a huge Amish fiction fan. I like most of Beverly Lewis' books, but I've found the huge surge of Amish fiction following Lewis' popular work to be largely cheesy, unrealistic, and poorly written. So I never jump to read an Amish fiction that's not by Lewis. However, the description to this book sounded so intriguing that I gave in and gave it a shot. The description reads:

"The story about a mother who risks everything to save a child not genetically hers . . .

The Past -- Graduate student Beth Winslow was sure she was ready to navigate the challenges of becoming a surrogate. But when early tests indicate possible abnormalities with the baby, Beth is unprepared for the parents' decision to end the pregnancy -- and for the fierce love she feels for this unborn child. Desperate, she flees the city and seeks refuge at Hopen Haus, a home for unwed mothers deep in a Tennessee Mennonite community.

The Present -- As head midwife of Hopen Haus, Rhoda Mummau delivers babies with a confident though stoic ease. Except in rare moments, not even those who work alongside her would guess that each newborn cry, each starry-eyed glance from mother to child, nearly renders a fault through Rhoda's heart, reminding her of a past she has carefully concealed.

Past and present collide when a young woman named Amelia arrives in the sweeping countryside bearing secrets of her own. As Amelia's due date draws near, Rhoda must face her regrets and those she left behind in order for the healing power of love and forgiveness to set them all free."

Now doesn't that sound amazing?! Well, it was. I wasn't sure what to expect when I read this book, but I was completely blown away. I figured out many of the "secrets" and "twists" early in the book (I think the reader was meant to), but then several that came at the end were completely unexpected and I didn't see coming at all. I received this book in the mail on Wednesday afternoon and had finished it by mid day Thursday. It was just that compelling. I literally had trouble putting it down. The characters were fully drawn and rich, the setting was beautifully described, and the plot was intricately laid out and intertwined the past and present perfectly.

Also, I have to add that the cover of this book is just gorgeous. I couldn't stop looking at it - so beautiful. I loved this book so much that as soon as I closed the last page, I immediately got online and ordered her first book, [book:The Outcast: a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter|16922991] (okay, I had a coupon and a gift card, but still, I have never done that with an author before). I'm counting down the days till I get The Outcast in the mail, because if the reviews are to be believed, it's even better than The Midwife. I hear she's currently writing a third book and I will be getting it as soon as it comes out! Jolina Petersheim is being added to my "favorite authors" list, and you'd be smart to add her to yours, as well. I'd recommend this book to any lover of Christian fiction - even if you don't like "Amish fiction".