This Month's Featured Resources...

Revolutionary WarScrap Crafting Lego History Latin Calendar

Monday, August 21

Slow Cook August

August : Back-to-School Basics
Learn the Crockpot Basics!!
Meatball Sliders
  • 24 oz frozen cooked meatballs
  • 24 oz marinara sauce
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 6 slices cheese (your preferred flavor)
  • 24 small, round rolls
  1. In bow, mix marinara sauce and vinegar.  Pour over meatballs in crockpot.
  2. Cover and cook on low 4-5 hours (or high 2 hours).
  3. Place cheese on top of roll (split open) and top with meatball.  Top with other half of roll.
Pizza Soup
  • 28 oz italian spiced stewed tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 1 c meat (sliced pepperoni, ground beef, ground sausage)
  • 1 c beef stock
  • 1 chopped bell pepper
  • 1/2 c croutons
  • 1 c shredded cheese
  1. Mix tomatoes and stock in crockpot.  Cover and cook on low 5-6 hours (or high 3-4 hours).
  2. Add meat and pepper during the last 30-45 minutes of cooking.
  3. Put croutons into bottom of bowl.  Put soup over croutons, and top with grated cheese.
Cheeseburger Joes
  • 2 lb ground beef
  • 2 chopped celery stalks
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 10 oz tomato soup
  • 1/4 c water
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp italian seasoning
  • 1 c diced cheese cubes
  • 6 hamburger buns
  1. Brown beef, then place into crockpot.
  2. Add onion, celery, soup, water, paste, sauce, and seasoning.  Stir well.
  3. Cover and cook on low 6-10 hours (or high 3-4 hours).
  4. With crockpot on low heat, add cheese cubes.  Cover and cook another 10-15 minutes.
  5. Spoon meat onto hamburger buns.

Thursday, August 17

Fun, Fun, Fun (Beach Boys)





Five Days of Getting Your Homeschool Year Off on the Right Foot

A big part of our school year is the field trips.  Generally, we will study a topic ahead of time and then take the field trip - this helps them to fully understand the hands-on experiences.  The kids have been to nearly every state, and experienced a wide range of of historical, scientific, and cultural activities that they wouldn't have been able to do solely in our home state.  

Not every family is able to road school, but that doesn't mean that field trips shouldn't be a part of your school.  If you are interested in starting to road school, or even vacation-school, here's a post to get you started on that journey!

Here are some FREE, local field trip options:

Most of our FREE unit studies incorporate field trips - you can find them all here!

Find your local field trip options through this app from Homeschool Buyers Co-op.

Finally, though these aren't free, educational subscription boxes are a great way to bring the field trip into your home.  Here are some of our favorites!

Grow Up So Fast (Chantal Kreviazuk)





Five Days of Getting Your Homeschool Year Off on the Right Foot

Homeschooling is a big job!  If you're trying to be mom, wife, housekeeper, chauffeur, and teacher...you're going to tucker out quickly.  (See more on Mommy Burnout.)

One way to keep your homeschool running smoothly is to assign age-appropriate chores.  Responsibility charts are also a good way to teach kids to keep up with their school assignments.

Here are the things we use...

School Responsibility Charts
We've been using these for several years now, but periodically update them to reflect changes in interest and age level.  All of our charts are available FREE at our Educents store.  This year's change is a Star Wars-themed chart that separates the schoolwork from the electives - hence showing where their priorities ought to lie.  When they've completed the assigned lesson, they get to mark in each Imperial symbol.

Chore Responsibility Charts / Allowance
I can remember, as a kid, getting to stick little stars next to my chores each evening after completing them.  It was so gratifying to see those little rows of stars going all the way across!  While we don't use that kind of chart, we do use a base allowance system, with additional opportunities for earnings.

See - I figure that school is their job.  And just like we'd expect to be paid for doing a good job, I want them to learn that a job well done gets earnings, while a job that is not done well does not get earnings.  (Whether that still holds true in today's society is a different argument.)  They have a base set of chores, which earns them a base weekly allowance.  Their pay can be docked, if chores aren't completed properly.  Allowance is paid in Mom Bucks, though we also have some Princess Bucks for the girls.

In addition, just like we could choose to pick up a side job, they have the opportunity to help out around the house for extra money - particularly when trying to earn one of those big Lego sets.  What they haven't figured out yet (so don't tell them!) is that by volunteering to do something, they get a little extra.  I want them to learn to look around and notice what needs to be done...

That said, our new-teenager is going to be learning all sorts of chores this year, such as mowing the yard.  He's terribly thrilled (dripping with enthusiasm...) about getting to do outside chores, but I suspect that, given his introverted nature, he'll come to appreciate the alone-time it affords him.

See more about children & chores at this post...

 Children & Chores

Wednesday, August 16

Straighten Up & Fly Right (Nat King Cole)





Five Days of Getting Your Homeschool Year Off on the Right Foot
The number one thing you can do to get your year off on the right foot is to GET ORGANIZED!  This includes having everything printed and ready to go (if you're not using pre-printed curriculum).

Through the years, we've tried various forms of organization, but these are the things that work the best for us, in our home.  We do not have a separate school room, but choose to learn at the dining room table.  When necessitated, one of the boys will take his reading to another room while I work with the other at the table.

A Place for Books
This does not include the three bookshelves we have around the house (one for read-alouds, one for supplemental materials, and one for fun books).  This shelf is just for curriculum that is currently in use.  We took the shelf part of our dining room storage cabinet and turned it into daily curriculum storage.  

Each boy has his own section of the shelf, and curriculum that is being used by both goes in the center.  Also, within the row of books are index card boxes that hold game pieces and flash cards.  As we often reuse the three-ring binders, they get new stickers each year showing what materials are inside.  These are simply sticky envelope labels that we've written on.

A Place for The Little Stuff
Pencils, pens, rulers, scissors, glue, tape, crayons, colored pencils, erasers.....it's all itty bitty and easy to get misplaced.  I found this Pampered Chef tool-turnabout for a dollar last year at a garage sale, and it has been entirely worth what it cost!  The boys know where to find writing utensils, and where to put them back at the end of the day, and it's easy for me to just take out the ones that don't work and refill as needed.  No more finding pens and pencils all over the house.  A simple desk organizer would work well, too.

A Place for Manipulatives & More
We traded a few years ago for this fantastic wooden bookshelf, and it has been a lifesaver in the organization department.  On the left, we have math manipulatives, larger math manipulatives, and Boy Scout materials.  On the right, we have mom's office supplies, audiobooks & paper supplies, and storage for completed schoolwork.  Everything in one easy-to-access place!

Desktop Access
Call me what you will, but I don't believe in giving the kids their own technological devices.  In an age where kindergartners have cell phones and babies play on tablets...well, I just think it's all gotten a bit out of hand.  We have one desktop computer.  It's in the dining room and open for anyone to see what's on the screen.  Everyone has to share the same computer.  I know...how very 1990 of me.  All of our computer files, games, materials, etc are at this desk - making it easy to find something, because it's going to be somewhere right there.

Now - my question to my readers is - how do you organize your files within your computer?  Pictures, curricula, office files, etc....they all go to the same hard drive, and it can be very difficult to organize!  Send us your best tips (by Sept 1st), and you will be entered to win our new Spanish Daily Calendar!

Tuesday, August 15

Get Ready (Temptations)





Five Days of Getting Your Homeschool Year Off on the Right Foot

After making our curriculum choices for the year (see what made the 2017-2018 cut!), the next thing I want to do is make sure that everything is printed out and ready to go.  I don’t want to be foundering around on Monday morning trying to find materials, only to find that they haven’t been printed yet!


We’ve tried printing everything at home and sending it to the local office supply store – but each of these options comes with its pitfalls.  In the end, we usually go with taking it to the office supply store.  

Why would we pay someone to do the printing?  We usually make that decision for speed and convenience.  However, the costs tend to fall on the astronomical end of the scale, and that takes up a huge chunk of our homeschool budget.

Read on for a fantastic discount!

A New Option for Printing
The Homeschool Printing Company charges considerably less than any other place we’ve used in the past; as much as 85% less than your local printing shop costs!  We even found that their prices were less than it would cost us to print things on our home printer, and far more convenient and quick.
Read on below for an awesome discount!

The Homeschool Printing Company is a small business owned and run by a family who homeschooled their daughter from 5th grade through the end of high school.  They remember what it’s like to be a homeschool family, and they’re understanding of homeschool families’ needs.

Our Experience
The Homeschool Printing Company officially opened for business on June 1st 2017, and I learned about them a few weeks later.  Though we’d already done the bulk of our printing for the upcoming year, I still had several hundred pages left to print, and the prices looked SO much better than our usual place, so we gave them a shot. 

I was so impressed with the printing quality, speed with which I received my copies, the packaging, and even how easy it was to give them the info of what I wanted printed!   All I had to do was email the files and tell them how I wanted it printed : whether to do double-sided or not, black & white or color copies, three-hole punched, or bound together.

One thing I really appreciated about the company was that I could send several small files.  At our office supply store, I had to combine every teeny tiny file into one large 2000+ page file, or the prices were even more outrageous.  With the Homeschool Printing Company, it doesn’t matter whether you have 2000 pages of itty bitty files, or one 2000 page file, the price is going to be the same.  And it’s going to be reasonable.

Printing Costs
Here’s what they charge for printing on 20-lb., 92-brightness,
8.5″ x 11″ letter-size white copy paper (standard):
  • 1-sided color copies = 8 cents
  • 2-sided color copies = 14 cents
  • 1-sided B&W copies = 3 cents
  • 2-sided B&W copies = 5 cents

Available for an additional charge:
  • 20-lb., 3-hole drilled paper = Add 1 cent/sheet
  • 22-lb., 94-brightness paper = Add 1 cent/sheet
  • 24-lb., 98-brightness paper = Add 2 cents/sheet
  • 28-lb., 100-brightness paper = Add 3 cents/sheet

How does this compare?
To print a 146-page PDF in color, double-sided, on 24-lb. paper, they only charge $10.95. Compare that to what any other local copy shop – or even any online printer – charges. At our local office supply store, the same file costs $21.33 to print.

Shipping
Shipping is additional, of course. They use FedEx Express 3-day service. They don’t add on any “handling charges” to the shipping costs. You only pay the actual cost of FedEx shipping.  Depending on how far you live from Minneapolis, here’s what shipping charges would be:
  • Up to 500 sheets = $8.50 to $10.75
  • 501 to 1,000 sheets = $11.00 to $13.50
  • 1,001 to 1,500 sheets = $17.00 to $18.75

The files arrived shrink-wrapped, with cardboard on the top and bottom to prevent getting wrinkled or bent.  Each file was separated by a colored sheet so that it was easy to see where one ended and the other began.  (We like to use those sheets as separators in our three-ring binders…recycling!)

Try them out Risk-Free!
The company is so certain that they can provide you with excellent printing. . . at a lower cost than you’ll find anywhere else. . . that they’ll make an offer you’ll find hard to resist.
  1. Send an e-mail to TheHomeschoolPrintingCompany@gmail.com.  (Include my name : Yvie @ Gypsy Road to get 10% off!)
  2. Attach some PDF files that you’d like printed.  (They don’t even need to be homeschool-related. It could be an e-book on parenting, gardening, or anything!  The files just need to be PDFs that you want to be printed on letter-sized white paper.)  If they’re too big to attach to an e-mail, use Dropbox, Drive, or another cloud-based service, and send them the link to the folder where they are.
  3. Let them know if you want the files printed single- or double-sided, B&W or color, and if you want any paper upgrades (three-hole punch, binding, etc).
  4. They’ll get back to you as soon as possible (usually same-day) and let you know what the total cost would be to print and ship your order.  (Make sure to include your physical address so they can calculate the shipping charges.)
  5. Once you hear back from them, you get to decide whether to go ahead and print up your PDFs.  There’s no obligation.  You’re free to say ‘no,’ without any issues.
  6. If you do give the “go-ahead”, they’ll print up your order as soon as possible and ship it out by FedEx.  In the package, they’ll include an invoice that you can pay (by check or PayPal), only if you’re 100% satisfied!
  7. If something isn’t right when you get your package, don’t pay the invoice.  Seriously!  E-mail them instead.  Let them know what’s up, and they’ll either fix it or cancel the invoice.
  8. If you have any questions, send an e-mail to TheHomeschoolPrintingCompany@gmail.com.  They’ll respond promptly.

Get a 10% Discount!
If you do decide to take them up on this offer, please let them know who put you in touch with them (Yvie @ Gypsy Road).  If you do that, you’ll get a 10% discount on your first order!  But they still won’t ask you to pay for it until after you receive your printing and are 100% satisfied.

(Disclosure: I will receive a small credit for my own printing if you use my name - Yvie @ Gypsy Road - as the one who referred you.)

2,000 pages, printed and hole-punched  $60.00

Expedited shipping  $13.50

Being totally prepared for the entire school year with just a few mouse clicks  
PRICELESS


(For comparison :  Office supply prices were :  $211.24 w/ free shipping for the same order)

Monday, August 14

Beautiful (Jenny Phillips)


While you're here, be sure to enter our current giveaways here and here...


Five Days of Getting Your Homeschool Year Off on the Right Foot
One of the biggest challenges to your homeschool year is having the right curriculum.  Each family is different; each curriculum is different; and there's no 'right' curriculum - only the one that is right for your family.  



For a few years, we used A World of Adventure, and we loved it!  Sadly, though, the author quit writing it halfway through the series.  Then, we spent a year using Memoria Press.  This is a fantastic curriculum and will prepare children for rigorous higher learning; however, it was just too much for us, and the kids were drowning.  I set off on a mission to find something similar to AWOA, where the subjects were streamlined.  

Finally, after much searching, I stumbled upon The Good & The Beautiful when my friend, Jane, posted this video on her blog.

This video is about the History curriculum, but I liked it so much that I began to dig into their other products.  What we discovered was a streamlined curriculum that really fit our needs!  As an even sweeter bonus, it is SO affordable, I'm even going to let the kids write in the books and not give it a second thought - because they're that affordable!  The older one can write in it, and I can buy a new one as the younger one advances.  (And 'affordable' isn't a word I often use beside 'curriculum'...)

So what does our year bring?

Fourth / Fifth Grade

Seventh Grade

**Block scheduling for history and science...alternating days...allows for more in-depth lessons.

We've allowed the boys to pick their own electives, based on their own interests, this year and will be doing them a few times weekly.  However, as their responsibility charts indicate, core school work must be completed before they begin on any elective classes.  The only exception here is P.E., which will be completed daily....since all children need to get out and about and run around!


A little more about The Good & The Beautiful....  
(No, I am not affiliated with them - just love them!)

The language arts programs cover several different subjects at once - including character, literature, geography, spelling, writing, reading, art appreciation, and grammar.  This kind of streamlining is not only good for the soul, but it's good for taking up less space in the car!  (Which, you know, is important when you're living out of the car while travelling from one job to the next.)  Levels 1-5 are available as free downloads, so that you can check it out and see if it's right for you, but I promise that it's a lot cheaper to buy their print version!  This is hands-down the most affordable curriculum we've ever seen.
See Levels 3 & 5 above....these are Levels 4 & 7.


In the classical style, this is a four-year program that wraps around to begin again after completion.  Each year comes with four different sets of printable pages, spanning kindergarten to twelfth grade, with age-appropriate work.  There are timelines, audio adventures, craft projects, and Charlotte Mason-style read-alouds.  

One of the things that makes this different from a traditional classical curriculum is that each of the four historical eras (Ancient, Middle Ages, Early Modern, Modern) is covered during each year.  Each year, however, a different aspect of that era is covered.  (ie, for Ancient : Year 1 = Egypt, Year 2 = Greece)  

The curriculum was created to be used together by the family, and this is the only thing that all of our students will be doing together this year.  Years 3 and 4 have not been completed, but are currently in the works - you can see the progress here.

Year 1 & Year 2

When is handwriting not just handwriting?  When it pulls double duty by reinforcing other subjects!!  The handwriting courses include artwork, poetry, Bible verses, and quotes that support character qualities. The courses also help provide practice with drawing skills.
They also offer Science and Typing programs, but we have not used them, so I cannot speak on them.


Friday, August 11

Patterns of Evidence & Giveaway


Film Summary
“Patterns of Evidence: Exodus” is an award-winning documentary by filmmaker Timothy Mahoney that chronicles an in-depth archaeological investigation in Egypt as his team attempts to corroborate the biblical text. The film explores one fundamental question: Is there evidence that the Exodus story actually happened? Twelve years in the making, this provocative documentary reveals new or rarely seen evidence regarding the Israelites’ descent into slavery, their exodus from Egypt and their ultimate conquest of the Promise Land. Are the stories relived in the Passover celebration based on real history or not? Although many scholars and archaeologists deny the validity of the Exodus story for lack of proof, “Patterns of Evidence: Exodus” builds a case that sheds new light on the story.

Our Thoughts
So, y'all know we're a music family...and the first thing I want to say is that the soundtrack rocked!  As far as documentaries go (which, I guess, isn't much of a scale, huh?), The Budapest Film Orchestra did a great job of building suspense and using crescendos and silence at just the right spots.

Beyond that, the film was a little fuzzy for me.  We were pretty into the whole ancient history timeline aspect of it, especially since the kids are fascinated by ancient Egypt, but it was just all a bit muddled.  There are three timelines discussed in the film, and they overlap and it's easy to confuse them.  I wouldn't be wrong in saying that all my kids really got from this film was footage of Egypt and some (at times, conflicting) information about the ancient Egyptians.  As parents, we struggled to follow it, too.  After exploring all the 'evidence' offered up, and delving into all three timelines and how the events match up to them, they even go as far as to question whether the Exodus even occurred or not.  At that point, I was ready to throw up my hands.  After all, what had the past two hours just been about?

It's a family-friendly film, in that there's nothing that will be offensive, but unless you're just super into Biblical history and debating the nuances of scripture, this may not be the film for you.  If your kids are into ancient history and Egypt (as our's are), then the background is cool and it's a film worth watching once...maybe while playing Legos on the floor at the same time.  There are some pretty neat archaeological artifacts presented, and a lot of debate over the Egyptian kings and the records they kept, too.

While I'm always up for a debate, Biblical or otherwise, I found the 'logic' of this film to be impossible to follow.  As you can probably tell, this is an honest review, and all opinions are my own.  😐


Notes about the film
  • The movie won 13 awards on the film festival circuit in 2014, including a Gold Remi Award winner for Best Director at the Worldfest Houston Intl. Film Festival, the Gold Crown Award for Best Picture and Best Documentary at ICVM 2014, and Official Selection at the Soho International Film Festival in New York.
  • Supplemental resources associated with the film include a nearly 400-page hardcover book, small group Bible study, Movie Event kit, youth version (called Young Explorers), homeschool curriculum and others.
  • The dvd includes powerful interviews with some of the top experts in the fields of archaeology and Egyptology as well as people of influence in the Middle East. 
  • The film has an objective, fair-minded and balanced approach. It allows viewpoints from all sides to be heard in a respectful way while asking honest questions of the Bible and scholars’ views. It does not preach and lets the evidence speak for itself. This allows the film to be very shareable with those of different viewpoints.

Get Social!
Facebook  ::  Twitter  ::  Watch Trailer ::  Purchase DVD  (use code MK1 for $3 off)

Hashtag: #PatternsOfEvidence & #FlyBy

Enter to win a copy of Patterns of Evidence by leaving a comment below. Winner will be randomly selected on August 20th. 
(Winner will have 48 hours to respond to email, or another winner will be selected.) 


Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post. Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller /FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days on the same blog, you are not eligible to win. Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

Thursday, August 10

Hot New Reads! Part II

Lawdamercy....I don't know about you, but it's blazing here!  I'm ready to sprawl out under a fan with a good book!  Which one of these new fiction finds will you choose?

While I don't typically point out my favorites, you'll find a few stars / recommended reads below.  😉

FICTION

Freedom's Ring  (Heidi Chiavaroli)
Boston, 2015
Two years after nearly losing her life in the Boston Marathon bombing, Annie David is still far from “Boston strong.” Instead she remains isolated and defeated―plagued by guilt over her niece, crippled in the blast, and by an antique ring alongside a hazy hero’s face. But when she learns the identity of her rescuer, will he be the hero she’s imagined? And can the long-past history of the woman behind the ring set her free from the guilt and fears of the present?
Boston, 1770
As a woman alone in a rebellious town, Liberty Caldwell finds herself in a dangerous predicament. When a British lieutenant, Alexander Smythe, comes to her rescue and offers her employment, Liberty accepts. As months go by, Alexander not only begins to share his love of poetry with her, but protects Liberty from the advances of a lecherous captain living in the officers’ house where she works.  Mounting tensions explode in the Boston Massacre, and Liberty’s world is shattered as her brother, with whom she has just reunited, is killed in the fray. Desperate and alone, she returns home, only to be assaulted by the captain. Afraid and furious toward redcoats, Liberty leaves the officers’ home, taking with her a ring that belonged to Alexander.  Two women, separated by centuries, must learn to face their fears. And when they feel they must be strong, they learn that sometimes true strength is found in surrender.

This was one of those books that you'll stay up half the night to read, just because you want to know what comes next!  The author has done her research, so you'll learn some history along the way, too.  The modern main character is a lady who was injured during the Boston Marathon bombing, while the historical main character is a lady who is trying to get by on her own during the Revolutionary War.  Both women are survivors, having undergone some harrowing times on their own.  They are tied together by a common thread - and this is one of those stories that jumps back and forth through that, but you'll be able to keep the plots straight.  There is a lot of mystery and intrigue, hence wanting to stay up all night to know the ending, and you'll probably walk away with some questions about your own ancestors...

**The Promise of Dawn (Lauraine Snelling)**  (RECOMMENDED)
When Signe, her husband, Rune, and their three boys arrive in Minnesota from Norway to help a relative clear his land of lumber, they dream of owning their own farm and building a life in the New World. But Uncle Einar and Aunt Gird are hard, demanding people, and Signe and her family soon find themselves worked nearly to the bone in order to repay the cost of their voyage. At this rate, they will never have land or a life of their own.  Signe tries to trust God but struggles with anger and bitterness. She has left behind the only life she knew, and while it wasn't an easy life, it wasn't as hard as what she now faces. When a new addition to the family arrives, Signe begins to see how God has been watching over them throughout their ordeal. But after all that has happened, can she still believe in the promise of a bright future?

This is the first of a new series, and I'm really looking forward to the next one!  The family moves from Norway to Minnesota and faces many struggles together in this new world.  Things are not what they were presented to be, and the family must choose whether to cope or go back home.  It takes a lot of perseverance, patience, and faith, but they choose to stay and work through it -- I want to know how the family plays out!  In addition to it just being a well-told, well-researched, historical Christian novel, it also has good homesteading information...we can always learn from those who came before us.  A good read.

The Return (Suzanne Woods Fisher)
Beautiful and winsome, Betsy Zook never questioned her family's rigid expectations, nor those of devoted Hans, but then she never had to. Not until the night when she's taken captive in a surprise Indian raid. During her captivity, Betsy faces brutality and hardship, but also unexpected kindness. She draws strength from native Caleb, who encourages her to find God in all circumstances. She finds herself torn between her pious upbringing and the intense new feelings this compelling man awakens within her.  Handsome and complex, Hans is greatly anguished by Betsy's captivity and turns to Tessa Bauer for comfort. Eagerly, Tessa responds, overlooking troubling signs of Hans's hunger for revenge. When Betsy is finally restored to the Amish, have things gone too far between Hans and Tessa?  Inspired by true events, this deeply layered novel gives a glimpse into the tumultuous days of prerevolutionary Pennsylvania through the eyes of two young, determined, and faith-filled women.

This is another well-researched, historical, Christian read...this one takes us to Pennsylvania during the era just after the French-Indian War.  It was a time when the Amish community was just being established, and thus a difficult era to live through for the main characters.  It starts off slowly, so plow through the first chapters, but you'll be rewarded with a good story...and then you'll stay up late just to see how it ends.  There's a love triangle, a kidnapping, lots of fear and anxiety, and a side of guilt...but there's also tolerance, acceptance, faith, and self-discovery for the main characters.  This is the third and final book in the Amish Blessings series, and it wraps everything up neatly.

To Wager Her Heart (Tamera Alexander)
Sylas Rutledge, the new owner of the Northeast Line Railroad, invests everything he has into this venture, partly for the sake of the challenge. But mostly to clear his father's name. One man holds the key to Sy's success--General William Giles Harding of Nashville's Belle Meade Plantation. But Harding is champagne and thoroughbreds, and Sy Rutledge is beer and bullocks.  Sy needs someone to help him maneuver his way through Nashville's society, and when he meets Alexandra Jamison, he quickly decides he's found his tutor. Only, he soon discovers that the very train accident his father is blamed for causing is what killed Alexandra Jamison's fiancé--and has shattered her world.  Spurning an arranged marriage by her father, Alexandra instead pursues her passion for teaching at Fisk University, the first freedmen's university in the United States. But family--and Nashville society--do not approve, and she soon finds herself cast out from both.  Through connections with the Harding family, Alexandra and Sy become unlikely allies. And despite her first impressions, Alexandra gradually finds herself coming to respect, and even care for this man. But how can she, when her heart is still spoken for? And when Sy's roguish qualities and adventuresome spirit smack more of recklessness than responsibility and honor?  Sylas Rutledge will risk everything to win over the woman he loves. What he doesn't count on is having to wager her heart to do it. 

The final installment in the Belle Meade Plantation series (although it also works as a standalone), this book wraps up all of the other plotlines while carrying its own.  The author has put a lot of research into making it historically accurate, and her descriptions will make you feel as though you're in Nashville.  The main characters struggle with societal expectations and experience personal growth, eventually together, and enjoy a little romance, too.  The temporal setting is Reconstruction-era in the South...where the location is also struggling with a new set of societal expectations, and trying to figure out how to grow with them....just like the characters, if you will.  It's not a romanticized view of this post-Civil War era, but rather it shows the ugliness, the dirtiness, and how beautiful grace was in the midst of that.  And as an added bonus at the end, we get a recipe for Chess pie....my mama's favorite!!

The Promise of a Letter (Kathleen Fuller)
Roman is on the verge of leaving the Amish ways. Feeling confined by the strict rules, he longs to do something more with his life. But when things don’t go as planned, Roman’s prospects outside of the community dwindle. Upon learning that his beloved grandmother has died and left a letter urging him to reconcile with his brother in Birch Creek, Roman decides to return home. But he doesn’t plan to stay for long.  Leanna Chupp has always made her own way in her small community of Birch Creek. Though some may call her unconventional—strange, even—Leanna is happy. Her unique outlook on life has meant she’s never had many suitors pursuing courtship, which Leanna doesn’t mind. She is content being single.  But when Roman and Leanna find themselves working together again, everything changes. Though neither fit squarely within the strictures of the Amish faith, their differences could be the very thing to help them form a deeper connection to their community and to each other. The question remains: will this strengthening bond be enough to make Roman stay for good?
Following Written in Love, this is the second book in this series, and I'm looking forward to the third!  It picks up right where the last one left off, with Phoebe expecting a baby.  All of the main characters return, but this time, Leanna takes the lead role.  She's not your typical Amish lead, being more of a tomboy, but that just made me love her all the more.  She embraces her uniqueness - which makes life difficult at times - but by being true to herself, she is able to help others, like Roman, be true to themselves.  This is a book about faith - faith in the Lord, faith in others, and faith in yourself.  Now we just have to find out what happens to Ivy...

Of Mess & Moxie (Jen Hatmaker)
Jen Hatmaker believes backbone is the birthright of every woman. Women have been demonstrating resiliency and resolve since forever. They have incredibly strong shoulders to bear loss, hope, grief, and vision. She laughs at the days to come is how the ancient wisdom writings put it.  But somehow women have gotten the message that pain and failure mean they must be doing things wrong, that they messed up the rules or tricks for a seamless life. As it turns out, every last woman faces confusion and loss, missteps and catastrophic malfunctions, no matter how much she is doing “right.” Struggle doesn’t mean they’re weak; it means they’re alive.  Jen Hatmaker, beloved author, Big Sister Emeritus, and Chief BFF, offers another round of hilarious tales, frank honesty, and hope for the woman who has forgotten her moxie. Whether discussing the grapple with change (“Everyone, be into this thing I’m into! Except when I’m not. Then everyone be cool.”) or the time she drove to the wrong city for a fourth-grade field trip (“Why are we in San Antonio?”), Jen parlays her own triumphs and tragedies into a sigh of relief for all normal, fierce women everywhere who, like her, sometimes hide in the car eating crackers but also want to get back up and get back out, to live undaunted “in the moment” no matter what the moments hold.
Written in conversational tones, this book is distinctly for the women in your life.  It's like one of those self-motivational classes - the kind they make you take in middle school - but funnier.  I have to be honest here and say that I was first attracted to the book simply based on the word "moxie;" I love that word, and nobody ever uses it anymore!  This is Jen's story about her struggles in life and how she overcame them, but it's also her encouragement to other girls and women who are facing their own struggles.  She makes you laugh out loud at times, and cry along with her at others.  I think the tone, and how it feels like a conversation, is one of my favorite aspects of this book.  No matter your age, or your current emotional state, you'll find encouragement and love in these pages.
Just Sayin'  (Dandi Daley Mackall)
Just Sayin’ tells the story of an almost-blended family that almost falls apart before it even begins. 11 year-old Cassie Callahan is staying with her grandmother while her mom, Jennifer, recovers from a difficult breakup from her fiancé, Trent. Cassie, along with Trent’s kids, Nick and Julie, are trying to figure out why their parents’ relationship ended so abruptly and searching for a way to bring them back together. Meanwhile, the kids get caught up in a game show that encourages the “art” of insults, and learn along the way that our words have much more power than they think.  In a way that only Dandi can accomplish, this story weaves together, in a contemporary way, an old-time game show, letter writing, outstanding vocabulary, and reminders from God’s word that taming our tongue is both difficult and important!

This is a quick read...it's written like a series of letters and correspondence among the characters.  It's easy to keep up with who is 'talking' because the letters are each written in a different type / handwriting, which I appreciated.  Sometimes, with books set up like this, it's difficult to keep track of who is speaking.  Overall, the book is very funny and would be better for a young adult audience than your typical 'adult' reader.  It has struggle, family dynamics, and a lot of humor, but couched within all of that are some good moral lessons....specifically about how our words affect others.

The Separatists (Lis Wiehl)
After getting the green light from her network to launch an investigative news show, Erica flies to Bismarck, North Dakota, to investigate Take Back Our Homeland, the largest secessionist group. What she finds is profoundly disturbing – a growing threat to the future of our union.  Back home, her husband Greg is drinking more and talking less—and taking an unusual interest in the glamorous author Leslie Burke Wilson. Erica’s teenage daughter has also begun acting out in troubling ways.  Then she discovers a potential informant murdered in her Bismarck hotel. Take Back Our Homeland might be even more dangerous than she had thought—and she’s unwittingly become one of the key players in the story. Her fear and anxiety escalate – for her marriage, her daughter, and her own life.  Bestselling novelist and former legal analyst for Fox News Lis Wiehl takes us behind the anchor’s desk in this gripping look at high-stakes reporting in a country torn apart.

This is the third and final book in the Newsmakers series, and I thought it was the best one of the three.  The main character is really deep into the political spotlight, to the detriment of her family, and this sets her up for all sorts of struggles.  Admittedly, it's a bit over the top at times, and yet slow at other times, but it's in the same vein as both of the other Newsmakers books; so if you liked the others, then you'll like this one.  It's fast-paced and you could really see the events playing out today, given the current political climate; however, I didn't like that the author felt the need to insert her own political opinions into the book.  As in, she takes jabs at real people, but only on one side of the fence, rather than just leaving it as a purely fiction book.

I received some, but not all, of these books in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.