15 Apr

A Song for the Stars

Strong female character–check.

Historical fiction–check.

Clean romance–check.

Action and adventure–check.

A Song for the Stars by Ilima Todd checked all the boxes for me! Add in the fact that this book is set in a culture I knew little about and is based on the true story of the author’s ancestors, and I am happy to give it a solid 4 stars. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and hope for more books from this author.

A book from Shadow Mountain Publishing’s Proper Romance line, A Song from the Stars has been compared to Pocahontas meets Moana which I feel is a fair comparison.  Did I mention it’s based on a true story?! Yes, I know I did; it just really upped the awesomeness of the reading experience for me.  In fact, there is a fantastic Author’s Note in the back of the story that gives more detail about the setting and historical accuracy which I really appreciate when I read historical fiction.  Also, there is a helpful glossary of words with pronunciation guide.

So, what is the plot of this book? Here’s what the blurb on the back of the book states:

“As the second daughter of a royal chief, Maile will be permitted to marry for love.  Her fiance is the best navigator in Hawai’i, and he taught her everything he knows–how to feel the ocean, observe the winds, read the stars, and how to love.

“But when sailors from a strange place called England arrive on her island, a misunderstanding ends in battle, and Maile is suddenly widowed before she is wed.

“Finding herself in the middle of the battle and fearing for her life, Maile takes John Harbottle, the wounded man who killed her fiance, prisoner, and though originally intending to let him die, she reluctantly heals him.  And in the process, she discovers the man she thought was her enemy might be her ally instead.

“John has been Captain James Cook’s translator for three voyages across the Pacific.  He is kind and clearly fascinated with her homeland and her people–and with Maile herself.  But guilt continues to drive a wedge between them: John’s guilt over the death he caused, and Maile’s guilt over the truth about what triggered the deadly battle–a secret she’s kept hidden from everyone on the island.

“When Maile is tasked with teaching John how to navigate using the stars so he can sail back to England, they must also navigate the challenges of being from very different cultures.  In doing so, they might also find the peace that comes when two hearts become one.”


Full of conflict as worlds collide, A Song of the Stars is not just a romantic summer read (although it would be the perfect book to toss in a bag and take to the beach!).  It’s also a book that made me contemplate my perceptions of others and the potential all around me for friendships and alliances if I will reach out and get to know people.

I highly recommend this thrilling new novel!  You can purchase it at Amazon or at most major bookstores.

12 Mar

Seven at Sea Blog Tour

How often do you truly think–and live–outside the box? I have always been fascinated by the stories of other people especially when there is a journey, quest, or goal to be completed. It’s inspiring to see human nature expand, overcome great odds, and persevere. It’s the reason I am a goal-setter myself: I love to envision the possibilities.  Even so, I don’t often go against the norm or stretch myself–or my family–to do anything overly ambitious.

I thought about this the entire time I was reading Seven at Sea by Erik and Emily Orton. I was enthralled by their thought processes, their family dynamics, their adventurous spirits!  Written a few years after the fact, Seven at Sea chronicles the travels of the Orton family as they fly to the Caribbean and set out to sea on a catamaran (I had to Google it to see what a typical one looks like!) which they christened Fezywig . The two pictures below are from the Orton’s blog:

Fezywig Underway_Clean.jpg IMG_4411.jpg

I loved reading about their adventures! Emily and Erik and their five children spent a few years dreaming about this trip.  Unlike most families, however, they actually followed through on their wild dreams.  I found myself shaking my head often at their choices while equally admiring them.  More than once I turned to my husband to ask him if he could see us ever doing something similar; honestly, I think we’re just too practical.  This is OK but I also know that after reading Seven at Sea I feel a little more like taking risks.  I loved this line from the book:

“Going on an adventure is a risk.  But what about not going? There are big risks that come with playing it safe.”

What a fantastic outlook on life!

This enthusiasm and risk-taking attitude is evident throughout the book, but the Ortons have not told their story through rose-colored glasses.  One of the things that makes this book so compelling–and even uncomfortable sometimes–to read is the brutal honesty displayed by the narrators.  Erik and Emily take turns doing the writing, and as I shifted between their perspectives I could literally feel the tension and stress at times as they worked to find ways to finance their trip, fix their boat, determine their routes, take care of their family, and more.  They don’t hold much back in the book or paint themselves as something they’re not.  They couldn’t really afford to go sailing for a year with their family (one of the things that had this security-loving reviewer especially awed by their chutzpah), but they went anyway.  Their kids weren’t perfect, their marriage hit a rough patch on the trip, things went wrong…and they pulled through it all.

* I like that they included maps and photos. *

Reading Seven at Sea has made me take a step back to evaluate areas where I can take some bigger risks and be willing to let go of control more.  After all, today is the only time I will be living these 24 hours and there are memories to be made!

I rated this book 4/5 stars on Goodreads and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about the journeys and growth of others.  It released earlier this month and you can purchase it here and at most bookstores.

What is the biggest adventure you have ever been on? I would love to hear about it in the comments!


28 Jan

Spreading Love: Books and Family Activities

February is just days away, and so I have teamed up with my good college friend, Diana, and her amazing sister-in-law, Eva to share ways to spread love.  Diana and Eva are each sharing on Instagram (you can check them out at @mudpiekitchenshop and @cheftactics).  I also shared a bit on Instagram, but wanted to give more information here about the books I chose, plus share some things we have done in our family to spread love.

Books about spreading love

I was going to stick with an even dozen but ended up tossing in two cute books I saw at the library, so here are fourteen books on this topic. They run the gamut from board books to a middle grade fiction novel.  Some are silly books to read aloud with lots of giggles and cuddles.  Some would make great bedtime reads.  Many are perfect discussion starters that can lead to your family serving in your community.

1. Guess How Much I Love You? by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram

This sweet classic is always a good reading choice.  Little Nutbrown Hare and his daddy compete in fun, adorable ways to see which one loves the other one most.  It’s a board book I love to give as a baby-shower gift with its wonderful message and lovely illustrations.

2. I Love You, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt, illustrated by Cyd Moore

A constant favorite for many years at our house, the original fell apart and I had to buy a new board book.  It makes kids feel loved and makes them giggle at the same time.  A mom reaffirms her love for her son as he comes up with all sorts of silly scenarios.

3. Wherever You Are, my love will find you by Nancy Tillman

With rhyming text and magical artwork, this board book creates a tender ode to our children perfect for bedtime reading.

4. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

A warm tale about a boy’s Sunday routine with his grandma highlights love between generations and also reminds us that we all have something to give no matter how little we may have monetarily.  As a bonus, the illustrations by Christian Robinson are amazing.This book would be awesome to read before going out and serving in your own local soup kitchen or volunteering in other ways in your community.

5. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, illustrated by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak

This book is more traditionally highlighted at the start of the school year since it’s all about Mrs. Raccoon calming Chester Raccoon’s fears of separation on the first day of school.  But it’s a wonderful book for reading any time of the year especially if you have a child who struggles with change and anxiety.

6. A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams

I adore the warm vibe of this book as a community rallies around a family (grandmother, mother, and daughter) who lose their home to a fire.  So much love in the family and the community both make this a splendid read anytime!

7. My Monster Mama Loves Me So by Laura Leuck, illustrated by Mark Buehner

I’m so glad I found this fun book at my library!  It’s sure to get you a monster-hug after you read it aloud!  It’s got cute rhyming text and silly pictures and lots of love.

8. I Love You, Too!  by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

This tender tale of baby animals finding presents for their mothers is another treasure I stumbled upon at the library.  I like the way both the mothers and children express love.  This one would also be a fun Mother’s Day read in a few months!

9. Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy, illustrated by Rafael Lopez

This is a joyous book about the power of community and spreading love and beauty through urban art.  I especially love that it’s based on a true story with more information in the back.

10. Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind by Cynthia 

A poignant true story, this picture book came out last year and is one of my favorite picture book biographies.  It illustrates the ways we are all connected to each other and the impact our small acts of love can have.

11. Just In Case You Ever Wonder by Max Lucado

More than any other book we own, this one brings back wonderful memories of being a young mother with little ones.  I cherish every time I read this aloud to my children and meant every word.  You will not regret owning this book.  Even teenagers need a reread occasionally.

12. We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio

A picture book companion to the equally amazing middle-grade book Wonders, this reminds us to choose kindness.  An awesome book for starting conversations about spreading love at school and about people who are different from us.

13. The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson, illustrated by Garth Williams

A heartwarming illustrated chapter book about a family and an old man who end up helping each other through a cold winter in Paris.  This makes for a beautiful read-aloud for the whole family.

14. Squint by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown

Geared for 5th through 7th graders, this book has a cast of characters trying to navigate middle school while dealing with health and family issues.  Published last year, it deftly reminds us that everyone is struggling and could use a friend.

Family activities to spread love

Just last night at the dinner table, four of my kids (the fifth one was on his way home from a college visit) were starting to argue and squabble with one another.  I was able to change the whole mood at the table with one effective activity.  We took turns naming things we liked and appreciated about each other.  We started with my youngest, and each person named something about him.  Then, he named something he liked about his sister just older than him and we all followed suit.  It continued until everyone had said something nice about everyone else.  It took zero preparation and supplies and happened while we were already together having a meal.  It would be perfect for a road trip or any other time that all or most of the family is together.

I also love to spread love in the community WITH my family.  We have done all sorts of things from picking up trash at the playground to leaving miniature candy canes and notes on cars in a store parking lot during the holiday season. One year my oldest daughter collected hygiene items for refugees in Phoenix, and inspired by her older sister, my youngest daughter that year had friends bring donations instead of presents to her birthday party.  And one of my favorite memories is from years ago when my children helped feed the homeless and hand out hygiene items to them.

Honestly, most days we are just living our normal lives.  We aren’t constantly out doing big projects, but I am usually trying to encourage kind words, politeness, and empathy.  The books we read and the activities we do as a family can have a huge impact on spreading love in the world.

What are some ways your family spreads love at home and in the community? Please share in the comments!

23 Jan

Creative Book Club: The Word Collector

Last night was my first month of my new creation: Creative Book Club! It was as much fun to plan as it was to host, and I am thrilled to share the details with you here.

What is Creative Book Club?

I decided this year to make space for myself to play, to have fun, to be creative, and to socialize. As I ruminated over ways to make this happen, my Creative Book Club was born.  I decided since it’s my brain child I can make it whatever I want–such freedom!  I combined elements of things that I love and decided to keep it flexible and simple so it would actually happen. Here’s the basic definition:

Creative Book Club is a monthly themed craft party based on a children’s picture book.

Here’s the vision:

I love children’s literature.  I want to talk about it with people.  I love throwing themed parties with fun but simple decorations and snacks.  I used to make time to do artsy-craftsy stuff and needed a push to do that again.  Throw all that stuff together in a pot, stir, pick some favorite people to email  and invite, pick a date and a book, and it’s a thing!

January Book: The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds 

It was hard to pick the first book but I chose The Word Collecter by Peter H. Reynolds because words are my jam, and it seemed like the perfect theme to kick off my year of fun. This book is about Jerome, a young boy who starts to write down the words he sees and hears and loves.  As his collection grows, Jerome discovers there is more he can do with words than just collect them.  Words can be combined and shared and turned into poetry and more.  It’s a joyous celebration of the power of our words!

Food & Decorations

Yesterday was a crazy busy day, and my husband was out of town, so I am grateful for teenagers who were able and willing to help out yesterday afternoon/evening which is when I put all of the decorations together. I found a site with free printable vintage dictionary pages which I printed and stapled together at angles (see photo) to create a table runner.  My table is quite long so I printed 15 pages (5 of each design). I stacked some vintage books in the middle tied together with baker’s twine.



My favorite part–although it was hard to photograph–were the strings of words we hung from the ceiling.  I found a bunch of tags I already owned in multiple sizes (click here for similar ones), grabbed my favorite black pen, and started writing down the words from the illustrations in the book.  I wrote on both sides of the tags and then punched holes in the bottoms of some of them so I could tie them together with twine and tape one end to the ceiling.  I also used sentence strips I already owned (purchased from Lakeshore Learning) which I cut into smaller strips.  I wrote words on them with Bic permanent markers and taped them to the walls.

Even though this wasn’t a Valentine’s Day party, I ended up using conversation hearts as both decor and one of the foods, because they were available and cheap this time of year and they have words on them.  I also bought a bunch of Dove chocolates because they all have a saying on the inside of the wrapper.  My Walmart had special caramel Dove chocolates with letters on the outside, so I sprinkled those and the conversation hearts down the middle of the table.  Chocolate is always a good idea!  On that shopping trip I also found some individually wrapped shortbread alphabet cookies that I grouped in a bowl.


The Craft

After spending forever on Pinterest–SO.MANY.FUN.IDEAS!!–I finally decided we would would make word magnets.  These were wonderfully easy  and simple and inexpensive!  We could chat away while we made them, which we did. Buy a container of glass marbles, the kind that are flat on one side, at Walmart or the dollar store in the fake flower section.  Get some foam brushes, paper plates, a container of Mod Podge, some small magnets, and Super Glue.  You will also want some scissors and it would be nice to have circle punches close to the size of your marbles (mine were 3/4″ and my punch was 1″).  We typed up a bunch of words that were spaced out for cutting to the write size and printed them off ahead of time.

You simply use the circle punch to cut out the words you want.  Pour Mod Podge on paper plates and use the foam brush to place a thin layer on the flat side of the marble.  Put your paper circle, word side down (so it will show through the marble), on the Mod Podge, and paint with another thin layer to seal.  After the Mod Podge has dried, trim away any excess paper and use the Super Glue to adhere the magnet.  Easy-peasy!


We had a great time and are excited for next month! I would love to hear if you decide to do something similar.  I chose to do this with other adult women and take a break from parenting, but this idea would be great to do with kids of varying ages as well! Happy reading!