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April 20, 2016

Simple Pleasures

I confess I don’t know much about the Amish way of life, and so when I heard about this book, I couldn’t wait to read it. I hoped it would enlighten me as to how and why the Amish live the way they do, without electricity or automobiles. To hear it all told from a mother’s point of view seemed irresistible for me.

I love the image on this book cover — it’s a work of art! There’s an expression of intense concentration and joy on this child’s face as she quietly creates a secret world with her pencil and paper. It’s how I feel most of the time when I can squirrel away a few minutes with my own journal. Thank you to whoever you are who took this photo, and thank you to Marianne Jantzi for being brave enough to share your private family stories with the loud outside world.

As a member of the Milverton Old Order Amish community, the oldest and largest of ten Amish settlements in Ontario, Canada, Marianne Jantzi’s days are filled with chores most of us can’t imagine. Her home is heated by wood stoves, which she must also use to cook her meals. Her husband leaves for work before dawn, transported by a horse and buggy driver. The Jantzis own a shoe business, attached to the front of their home, and all transactions are recorded by hand.

Jantzi’s writing reaches readers all over North America via her much-loved “Northern Reflections” column in The Connection, a favorite magazine among Amish and Mennonite communities. She doesn’t have a computer at home to type out her thoughts. They’re written by hand and driven to town for someone else to type and edit. As a mother of four young children, the oldest in kindergarten, Jantzi’s days are incredibly busy. Yet she takes the time to reflect on the quiet simple pleasures that fill a home with love.

Reading her stories brought back happy memories of my own early days of mothering. Young children can be both exhausting and endearing, and I love how she takes the time to listen and record their conversations. I especially enjoyed reading about her gardening experiences and how she provides healthy meals for her family from her own backyard.

Her book answered many questions I had about Amish life, and it’s an important work to be added to Amish book collections, preserving our North American history. I found myself double-checking the copyright date in the front several times: was this really published in 2016? Yes, it’s a brand new book, and there really are people in the world who choose to live like Laura Ingalls Wilder in her Little House on the Prairie books. In fact, Jantzi enjoys reading that whole series out loud to her children.

Yet she doesn’t sugarcoat the frustrations of motherhood. Her children bicker at times and lose their shoes and socks. She worries about getting her home tidied up for a church meeting, which is no easy task with toddlers underfoot. But through her busy days, Jantzi finds strength in simple pleasures of family, fellowship, and quiet time with God.

I love her descriptions of the tight-knit Amish communal way of life. She is never lonely, being surrounded by people who have known and loved her family for generations. Here’s an example:

For my thirtieth birthday, my sisters put a quilt in a frame and invited…cousins in to quilt, visit, and eat. Since then, each glimpse of my lovely quilt reminds me of that wonderful day and the message it speaks to me. The quilt is filled with lovely blue flowered circles linking over a white background. Just like those flowery links, my friends joined around the quilt, blossoming from each other’s friendship and helping hands.

In the back of the book, she includes several of her family’s favorite kid-friendly recipes, and after reading her background stories, I can’t wait to try them out. She also has a section answering Frequently Asked Questions about Amish living, as well as “A Day in the Life of the Author.” I will treasure this book and add it to my collection of books written by mothers. She has helped me appreciate the “simple pleasures” in my own home and to savor my own gift of being surrounded by children.

I hope the Amish will continue being able to live the way they do, but at the end of the book, I began to feel a sense of tension. She describes how difficult it can be depending on others for internet transactions. For example, the Canadian government recently changed its methods of tax collection, and those who used to be able to send in paperwork by regular mail, now must make phone calls or submit electronically. Since Jantzi doesn’t have a phone in her home, she had a stressful day trying to handle this payment. I wonder what will happen in the future.

I also wondered about the children…what will they do about schooling once they graduate from the one-room Amish schools? Will the adolescents be allowed to learn to use technology? Will they be able to attend university? What kinds of careers will they be able to choose? I guess I finished the book with still more questions…but that’s what good literature is all about.

For now, I’ll savor the beauty of Marianne Jantzi’s writing, as she describes the beginnings of a Canadian summer:

We are busy reaping the fruits of the gift we longed and sighed for. For weeks, it was kept from reach, wrapped in deep, white layers of cold. Next we wished to quickly tear away the layers of chilly, soggy days…Those last layers were gradually stripped away by warm breezes and sunshine. Daffodils and tulips bloomed. Toes bared and leaves unfurled. There are barbecues and picnics, scooters and Rollerblades. Happiness reigns as we sing praises to God for this gift we’ve so graciously been given. Summer.

I can relate to that!

Simple Pleasures is part of the Plainspoken series, published by Mennomedia. These real-life stories of Amish and Mennonites include:

Book 1 – Chasing the Amish Dream: My Life as a Young Amish Bachelor, by Loren Beachy

Book 2 – Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order, by Marlene Miller

Book 3 – Hutterite Diaries: Wisdom from My Prairie Community, by Linda Maendel

Book 4 – Simple Pleasures: Stories from My Life as an Amish Mother, by Marianne Jantzi

About the author:
Marianne Jantzi is an Amish writer and homemaker in Ontario, Canada. Formerly a teacher in an Amish school, Jantzi now educates and inspires through her “Northern Reflections” column for The Connection, a magazine directed mainly to Amish and plain communities across the U.S. and Canada. She and her husband have four young children and run a shoe store among the Milverton Amish settlement of Ontario.
Thank you to Litfuse for a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Books,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Gardening,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on An Amish Mother Who Writes to Record Life’s Simple Pleasures

March 15, 2016

Happy Spring everyone! I hope you’re enjoying this beautiful season in your corner of the earth, wherever you are. When I first saw the cover of Gwen’s Smith’s new book, the title jumped out at me, like that sign was written to get MY attention.

I Want It All cover
I’m certainly guilty of feeling like I always want a little more, and so I thought this book might speak to me about learning to be more content, more satisfied with the gifts God’s given me. Instead, it pushed me into deep conviction.

I didn’t realize Gwen Smith is a singer/songwriter, as well as an author, yet I was soon mesmerized by her poetic cadence:

Lord, I want it all today
Every blessing you ordain
Every trial, every strain
Break and build me for your gain.

In fact, if you’ve never heard her speak or sing in person, I think you should stop reading right now, and listen to her voice share these words with you. I would not even call them words — they’re lyrics.

The book begins with a quote from one of my all-time favorite authors, Elisabeth Elliot, who wrote in Through Gates of Splendor: “I have one desire now — to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it.” Every woman reading this knows our energy is limited, no matter how old we are. We can’t possibly say yes to everything asked of us and get it all done, so it’s a crucial decision: where are we supposed to put our energy and strength to live this life of reckless abandon?

Reading I Want It All will definitely give you ideas of your uniquely personal calling. It’s divided into three main parts: All the Faith, All the Power, and All the Impact. As you increase your faith, you’ll be able to tap into the power available to you through the Holy Spirit, and live with greater impact.

Each chapter begins with a personal story from the author’s life, so in many ways, this reads like a memoir, which is my favorite type of non-fiction book. I love it when a writer is brave enough to allow thousands of strangers to peek into her heart. She’s also deeply knowledgeable about Scripture and how it applies to the life of the 21st century woman. She says her three “go-to principles” for gaining wisdom are:

1. Fear God.
2. Ask God.
3. Seek godly counsel.

I’ve heard these statements before, but Gwen brings such a freshness and zeal with her personal stories about how she seeks wisdom as one digging for sparkling rare gems. “Look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:4-5).

This book would work great for a women’s Bible Study or Book Club, as each chapter ends with Reflection and Response questions. There’s also an extensive Study Guide in the back section that would make it very easy for anyone to pick up and lead. While reading, I realized that’s truly the value of inspirational books, when you can get together with others and share Truth.

Once again, I will defer to this energetic author, Gwen Smith, and let her share with you her purposes for getting this book into your hands!

I had to laugh at the title of her last chapter “Who Me? Yeah You? Couldn’t Be! Then Who!” I grew up in the 80s and played many rounds of “Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?” In fact, this game worked well in my English classes when I taught junior high students years ago in Japan.

But Gwen’s point here really convicted me — sometimes we want to ignore the pricking of the Holy Spirit when God calls us to be open to opportunities He gives us. I was really amazed at reading some of her stories of how she talks to people in airports, coffee shops, and grocery stores, taking a few extra moments to realize God has put that person in her path for a Divine Appointment. I thought of how often I rush by someone with a smile and a quick “Hi!” instead of stopping to really ask how they’re doing. Yet, I’ve crossed paths with many people who are just the opposite, and have taken the time to really reach out to me.

Gwen writes:

Being salt and light and pointing people to Jesus doesn’t mean we need to start handing out Bible tracts on street corners…It means that you and I should be open to the random God opportunities He brings our way each day, and we should intentionally bless others on His behalf.

So, you can see why this book is easy to recommend — fresh, energetic, and inspiring. Definitely a great pick-me-up for Spring reading.


About the Author:
Gwen Smith
Gwen Smith is an author and volleyball enthusiast who lives in sunny North Carolina and has been married to her college honey, Brad, for 23 years. They are tired parents to three competitive-sport-playing teens who keep them on their toes and on their knees. Her online friends meet at to connect and be encouraged, and her goal is to help women think big thoughts about God and be inspired to live out the grace and truth of Jesus. Gwen speaks, leads worship, and eats potato chips at women’s events everywhere, and she is a co-founder of the conference and devotional ministry Girlfriends in God.
Thank you to the wonderful staff at Litfuse for sending me a complimentary copy of this book for review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Faith,Marriage,Motherhood,Wellness | Permalink | Comments Off on When You’re Ready to Make an Impact: Gwen Smith’s ‘I Want It All’

December 21, 2015

Our family is excited about the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so here’s a quick refresher course on how to speak Yoda-style, compliments of Grammarly.

Yodify your Grammar Infographic

By: Heather Ivester in: Movies,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on How to Use Grammar Like a Jedi Master

December 18, 2015

Nearly ten years ago, I read Dianne Jacob’s book, Will Write for Food, after purchasing it from the Writer’s Digest catalog. It has become one of my favorite writing books, surviving year after year of ruthless culling of my bookshelves. I reviewed it then in my brand new blog, and it’s a bit staggering to look back on that post, as both I and my blog have aged an entire decade.

I’m still here, and I still enjoy sharing great books and writing resources. In 2009, Dianne Jacob entered the world of blogging as a way to update her book, and you can keep up with her at Will Write for Food.

Because of vast changes in the world of print and digital writing, Dianne Jacob’s new edition has been extensively revised to reflect current media trends. I enjoyed this 2015 release and found it brimming with practical advice for bloggers and photographers, as she offers a smorgasbord of ideas on how to become a professional in the field. That is, how to make money from your food writing.

Will Write for Food

In her introduction, Dianne Jacob shares:

Much has changed in the world of food writing since 2005, most notably in the widespread acceptance of blogging. Ten years ago, bloggers had barely emerged, and the print world did not respect them. Since then, a national food magazine asked a food blogger to write a monthly column…a food blogger got a show on the Food Network…more than a hundred food bloggers have book deals, and a few make a six-figure income. Learning good photography, social media skills, and self-promotion has become as important — maybe more so, if I’m being honest — than being an excellent writer.

Whether you’re a gourmet food aficionado or simply enjoy sharing your love of cooking through recipes and personal photography, this book has something to offer you. After devouring this new edition, I learned the field of food writing is still wide open, and if you have a passion for food writing, this book can help take you to the next step of becoming a professional.

Here are a few ways you can break into the huge market for food writing:

Start a Food Blog
If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a book, the best place to begin is by creating a blog. Then you can start immediately in finding your voice and audience, which will build your platform as an expert in your field. Chapter 4 of Will Write for Food is completely devoted to helping you get started. Jacob has interviewed dozens of successful food bloggers and shares their tips to help you.

Become a Better Photographer
Food writing works in sync with beautiful photography. Jacob explains, “Since the web is such a visual place, this is the best way to increase views. Of course it isn’t easy, but having terrific photos can propel a food blog to stardom.” She includes many practical ways to make your photo shoots look more professional.

Master the Art of Recipe Writing
“A well-written recipe is like poetry,” says Jacob. “Agents and editors can see a good one a mile away.” Who knew there was such an art to writing down your recipes? There is, and chapter 8 explains how you can become a master of the art. She includes a list of powerful action verbs that will bring your recipes to life. I especially enjoyed reading about how Julia Child captured the attention of legendary editor Judith Jones because of her strong knack for punchy verbs.

Compile a Cookbook
The world of cookbook writing has changed drastically in the past decade. Cookbooks are full of stories, which help grab a reader’s attention. “Many people read cookbooks in bed as though they were novels,” Jacob says. “They provide escape from daily life and a source of guiltless pleasure.” I confess I’ve done this very thing. I love reading descriptions of food, and especially the narratives behind them. Many magazines and websites have created sections to showcase the stories behind recipes. My favorite is Guideposts.

Write a Food Memoir
Ah… I love food memoirs. When I traveled to Tampa a few years ago to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the egg industry, I found myself spending the weekend with strangers who had one main topic in common: we loved reading and writing about food. So we discussed our favorite food memoirs, as we dined on scrambled egg burritos on the bus ride to tour egg farms. My all-time favorite food memoir is Julia Child’s My Life in France, which was co-authored with her nephew, Alex Prud’Homme. Julie and Julia sprang from the original, and I’m also a fan of farm-to-table memoirs such as Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life. There’s a never-ending market for weight-loss stories and recipes, and I reviewed Heidi Bonds’ Who’s the New Kid? here. Dianne Jacob devotes all of Chapter 9 to “Crafting Memoir and Nonfiction.”

Create Fiction Infused with Food
I love it when I’m reading a novel infused with descriptions of food. I can’t help it. I learn so much about characters and setting by visualizing meals in the story. Jacob writes, “In fiction, food is a device that helps you develop characters based on how they cook, which foods they like, and how they eat. It also creates a mood or sets a scene, and establishes the time.” Many fiction authors today include recipes, and several books I’ve reviewed have inspired me to try out a recipe I’ve discovered, such as Eva Marie Everson and Linda Evans Shepherd’s The Potluck Club and Cyndy Salzmann’s Friday Afternoon Club cozy mystery series.

I hope you get a chance to read Will Write for Food, and if you collect trade books on writing, this is one you’ll want to acquire for your shelves. Reading the updated edition ten years after the first has me focused less on myself and more on how I plan to incorporate food writing in my English/Language Arts classroom. I can’t wait to see what kinds of recipes and stories my teen students come up with. Maybe we’ll even compile a classroom cookbook or break into food blogging. The opportunities for sharing a love of good food and writing are endless!


About the Author:
Dianne Jacob is a popular speaker at food writing conferences and workshops in America and around the world. She judges for both the James Beard Foundation annual cookbook awards and the IACP annual cookbook awards. The coauthor of Grilled Pizzas & Piandinas and The United States of Pizza, and the writer of The Good Pantry, she lives in Oakland, California. She can be reached at her website and blog, where she covers food writing trends, issues, and technique.

Note: I received this book, complimentary, from the publisher for the purpose of review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Blogging,Book Reviews,Cooking & Recipes,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on Dianne Jacob Offers Great Tips for Bloggers in Will Write for Food

November 6, 2015

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, friends and family are contemplating who’s going to cook the turkey this year, where everyone will gather, and why in the world Christmas decorations are already filling the shelves. It’s easy to forget this season is all about gratitude — being thankful for all the great gifts God has given us.
Another Way Home

Author Deborah Raney welcomes readers back to the Whitman family home for Thanksgiving in the 3rd book of her wonderful Chicory Inn series, Another Way Home. I’ve loved being able to read Book 1, Home to Chicory Lane, and Book 2, Two Roads Home.

In this series, Grant and Audrey Whitman have transformed their family home into a beautiful bed and breakfast, which they imagined would fill the autumn season of their lives with the joy of hospitality. Although they do entertain guests regularly, it is their grown children and grandchildren who continue to keep them completely busy and on the verge of prayer.

Another Way Home focuses on their middle daughter, Danae, and her husband, Dallas Brooks, who have been trying for years to grow their family, but have yet to be able to have a baby. Danae has visited fertility clinics for three years and is ready to consider adoption, but her husband, Dallas, will not even discuss it.

At the prompting of an inspiring sermon at church, Danae decides to begin volunteering at a newly opened shelter for abused women and children. She has no idea how this one small step of faith will lead her in a completely new direction. As Danae is finally learning to live her life with gratitude, heart-wrenching events on Thanksgiving weekend threaten to pull the entire Whitman clan into turmoil — and leave them all forever changed.

If you’re ready to kick back and read a relaxing book that will help you face the trials of life with an even deeper faith, I heartily recommend this series for you. I love all of Deborah Raney’s books because they’re clean — no disgusting language or vile images — and have the power to transform and uplift my faith.

As my own children are beginning to leave the nest and move to the next season of life, I’m eagerly learning from Grant and Audrey Whitman to see how they handle grown children and the choices they make.

Now I’m looking forward to the fourth Chicory Inn book, which will be released next June!


Enter here to win a copy of Another Way Home—five winners will be chosen! Click the image below to enter to win. The winners will be announced November 23 on the Litfuse blog!

Another Way Home Giveaway
About the Author:

DEBORAH RANEY’s first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched her writing career after twenty happy years as a stay-at-home mom. She is currently writing a new five-book series, the The Chicory Inn Novels. Deb and her husband, Ken Raney, recently traded small-town life in Kansas––the setting of many of Deb’s novels––for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita. They love traveling to visit four children and five grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deb on the Web at
Deborah Raney
Here are more places where you can connect with author Deborah Raney:


Thanks to Abingdon Press and Litfuse Publicity for providing me with a complimentary copy.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on Deborah Raney’s Chicory Inn Series Continues with Another Way Home

November 1, 2015

A Respectable Actress

One of our favorite spots to vacation as a family is St. Simon’s Island, off the coast of Georgia. Every time we visit, I learn something new about the history of the island, especially when we go exploring on rainy days. There’s a beautiful old church, Christchurch, that seems to pull me with a magnetic force toward its rich layers of drama and history.

When I heard about Dorothy Love’s new novel that takes place on St. Simon’s Island and Savannah, I couldn’t wait to travel through the pages of time into an 1870s murder mystery. I was completely intrigued!

India Hartley, a famous and beautiful actress, is now alone after her father’s death and embarks upon a tour of theaters across the South. Her first stop is Savannah’s Southern Palace. During the second night’s performance, something goes terribly wrong. India’s co-star, Arthur Sterling, is shot dead on stage in front of a packed house, and India is found holding her own smoking gun!

After she is arrested and put in jail, a benefactor hires Philip Sinclair, the best lawyer in Savannah, to defend her. A handsome widower, Philip is struggling to reinvent his worn-out plantation on St. Simon’s Island. He must increase his income from his law practice in order to restore Indigo Point. Hardly anything will bring him more new clients than successfully defending a famous actress on a murder charge.

Because India can’t go anywhere in town without being mobbed, Philip persuades the judge handling her case to let him take her to Indigo Point until her trial date. India is charmed by the natural beauty of the Georgia lowcountry and is increasingly drawn to Philip.

But a locked room and the unsolved disappearance of a former slave girl raise disturbing questions. Piecing together clues in an abandoned boat and a burned-out chapel, India discovers a trail of dark secrets that lead back to Philip, secrets that ultimately may destroy her or hold the key to her freedom.

What makes this novel even more interesting is that it’s inspired by the life of a real 19th-century woman, Frances “Fanny” Anne Kemble. She was an English actress who moved to Georgia in the 1830s and married Pierce Butler, a wealthy plantation owner. She kept a diary of her life on St. Simon’s, which was published in 1863, Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation.

In an author’s note, Dorothy Love also explains that while Indigo Point is entirely a fictional creation, it is based on King’s Retreat, which is documented in the collected letters of Anna Matilda Page King. For anyone who is interested in Georgia history, A Respectable Actress may serve as a springboard into the lives of real characters who lived on St. Simon’s Island.

After reading A Respectable Actress, I realized this will definitely not be the only Dorothy Love book I read! I was fascinated to learn that one of the characters who appears in this novel, Celia Browning Mackay, is the main character in a previous work, The Bracelet. I love the city of Savannah, so I have added this book to my wish list!

Throughout this novel, the theme of grief is explored, as India Hartley works through her first year of losing her father. It’s helpful for anyone dealing with grief, and I was touched to read Dorothy Love’s account of how she learned to write through her own grief when she found out her beloved brother had terminal cancer.

I hope you will find time to read A Respectable Actress. Through encountering it, I have fallen even further in love with coastal Georgia, and I know you will too!

About the Author:
Dorothy LoveA native of west Tennessee, Dorothy Love makes her home in the Texas hill country with her husband and their golden retriever. An award-winning author of numerous young adult novels, Dorothy made her adult debut with the Hickory Ridge novels. When she isn’t busy writing or researching her next book, Love enjoys hiking, traveling, and hanging out with her husband Ron and their rambunctious golden retriever. The Loves make their home in the Texas hill country.
Find Dorothy online: website, Twitter, Facebook.

Thank you to Litfuse for sending me a complimentary copy of this book for review.

By: Heather Ivester in: American Authors,Book Reviews,Travel | Permalink | Comments Off on Falling in Love with Coastal Georgia in A Respectable Actress

September 8, 2015

Around the globe, people are raising awareness today about the incredible literacy needs out there. With nearly 800 million people unable to read or write, we should all do our part to help spread a love of reading and writing. I grew up in a home filled with books, was raised by educated parents, and I attended free public school in my state. But there are so many others who don’t have access to books or education. Below are a few staggering statistics.
Literacy Day

Thank you to the good people at Grammarly for this colorful infographic!

By: Heather Ivester in: Books,Education,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on Celebrating International Literacy Day

July 14, 2015

Letters from My Father's Murderer

The night is far gone; the day is at hand.
So then let us cast off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light.

Romans 13:12

When I first encountered the story behind Laurie Coombs’ newly released book, I couldn’t wait to read it. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine how she could ever forgive the man who took the life of someone she loved so much. I thought right away of how Corrie ten Boom was able to forgive the German guard who caused the death of her sister in Ravensbruck concentration camp. The book struck me as a modern-day story of the power of forgiveness.

From the very first page, I was amazed at Laurie Coomb’s bravery in sharing personal details of the events leading up to the crime, as well as the years of agony following this horrific event. As she searches for truth, she has the courage and tenacity to pursue a correspondence with the killer, even behind bars of a maximum security prison. She cares about him as a human being, knowing that despite what he took away from her, God still loves him and has a plan for his life.

She writes:

I began to see Anthony as a real person, just like me, with thoughts and feelings and life circumstances that molded and shaped him into the person he is. I began to question what happened in his life that allowed him to become the person who ultimately murdered my dad… As the days passed, I felt God’s nudge to write back. But the thought of engaging this man in correspondence was unsettling. I was standing on rocky ground, and every step I took would lead deeper into enemy territory–deeper into the pain of my past. It was scary, but I knew this was where God was leading.

Over the course of four years, Laurie and the man responsible for her father’s death, write letters. Through it all, they both begin to see a greater purpose for their own lives. Even a man imprisoned for a lifetime can still make an impact on the people around him. The book contains pictures that also bring the story to light, and its messages are applicable to any reader who is struggling with forgiveness. The truth sets all of us free.

Here is a recent interview with author Laurie Coombs telling her story to Anchor/Reporter: Kristen Remington on KTVN Channel 2 News:

From Litfuse Publicity:
Can God heal the deepest wounds and redeem what seems unredeemable? Laurie Coombs experiences God’s transforming and redemptive power in her new book, Letters from My Father’s Murderer. When her father was murdered, Laurie Coombs and her family sought justice―and found it. Yet, despite the swift punishment of the killer, Laurie found herself increasingly full of pain, bitterness, and anger she couldn’t control. It was the call to love and forgive her father’s murderer that set her, the murderer, and several other inmates on the journey that would truly change their lives forever.

Join Laurie in celebrating the release of Letters from My Father’s Murderer by entering to win a Kindle Fire!

letter from father's murderer - 400 

One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire HD 6
  • A copy of Letters from My Father’s Murderer

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on July 20th. The winner will be announced July 21st on Laurie’s site.

letter from father's murderer - enter banner

About the Author:
Laurie Coombs
In 2010, Laurie Coombs was called to love and forgive the man who murdered her father, which led to an exchange of letters between she and Anthony, her father’s murderer. During their correspondence, Laurie was healed from her past wounds, was given grace to forgive Anthony, and witnessed a powerful transformation in Anthony as Jesus brought him to repentance.

Laurie’s story is featured in Billy Graham’s new film, Heaven, part of the “My Hope with Billy Graham” series broadcast nationally in an effort to reach people with the message of the gospel.

Laurie writes on her blog to encourage others to draw close to God and follow Jesus despite fear or feelings of resistance. She is passionate about the topic of forgiveness and feels called to share the story God has entrusted to her in hope that, through her testimony, many may receive the freedom she has experienced through Christ. Laurie is a regular contributing writer and blogger for and

Thank you to Litfuse for allowing me to review a complimentary copy of this book.

By: Heather Ivester in: Christian Living,Faith,Wellness | Permalink | Comments Off on Laurie Coombs’ ‘Letters from My Father’s Murderer’ Kindle Fire Giveaway

June 17, 2015

Two Roads Home

It’s summer, and my stash of great books to read has grown. You’ll hardly find me anywhere without a book in my hand or at least one close by. Sometimes I can only snatch a quick page or two in the five minutes waiting for band or theater camp to end, but I love making progress through a novel. I even signed up for the Adult Summer Reading Club at our local library, which makes me a good role model for my kids, right? (Truthfully, I wouldn’t mind winning the grand prize night out on the town: dinner, movie, and spending money for a shopping spree!)

At the top of my summer reading list is Deborah Raney’s Two Roads Home, the second installment in her Chicory Inn series. I loved the first book, Home to Chicory Lane, which I reviewed last August here. I wasn’t surprised to learn Home to Chicory Lane is a 2015 Christy Award finalist, among several other prestigious awards. It captivated me because my husband and I are in the midst of parenting our own five children/teenagers, and the main characters Grant and Audrey Whitman are a few years further along, having reared five children who have left the nest and are now out into the world.

In the Chicory Inn series, Grant and Audrey Whitman have transformed their family home into a welcoming bed and breakfast. I enjoyed spending time with all of my favorite characters from book one, which focused on daughter Landyn and her struggles as a newlywed. The second book takes us into the home of the Whitman’s daughter Corinne, whose marriage to Jesse Pennington is being stressed to the breaking point due to his relentless travel schedule.

Corinne’s husband Jesse is good-looking and friendly, and one of his young female coworkers takes his outgoing nature the wrong way. She thinks he’s flirting with her, as they find themselves traveling together to various sales conferences, while Corinne stays home taking care of her and Jesse’s three young daughters. The plot is full of twists and turns, as this attractive single coworker takes a “Fatal Attraction” interest in Jesse and his family. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, wondering what would happen. I really put myself in Corinne’s shoes.

Jesse is surprised to find himself called into the office of his boss, at first wondering if he’s been promoted, but then he learns his spurned and angry coworker has decided to retaliate by launching a sexual harassment scheme, jeopardizing both Jesse’s career and personal life. Meanwhile, Jesse is propelled into some deep soul-searching, as well as an early mid-life crisis. He and Corinne are living in their recently built dream home, and their hefty mortgage and comfortable lifestyle prevent Jesse from quitting his job. Yet he feels something is missing, and he sometimes wonders whether he’s called to be a teacher.

I loved seeing how Grant and Audrey Whitman balance their empty nest and desire to operate a successful B&B with their roles as mentors of their adult children. I could also relate to the exhausted young mother, Corinne, who is wiped out by the daily demands of parenting toddlers and preschoolers. Deborah Raney’s skillfulness as a Christian author shows us how to follow God’s Way above the world. As the characters struggle, their faith emerges, and every decision leads back to Christ. This novel series is an excellent handbook for life, and I know I’ll return to it in years to come!

Now I have to wait until October for the release of Book #3, Another Way Home, which deals with daughter Danae’s difficulties with conceiving a child. Unlike her two sisters who have been quick to start their families, Danae finds herself visiting infertility clinics and wondering if she’ll ever become a mother. Fortunately, there’s a snippet of the upcoming third novel in the back section of Two Roads Home so we can already jump into what’s coming next!

If you love television dramas like Downton Abbey, here’s a present-time story set in the heartland of America, Missouri. This novel series would be interesting for book clubs to discuss, and the author includes a Group Discussion Guide in the back section, making it easy to share with friends. You can enter for a chance to win one of five books here!

Deborah Raney
About the Author:
DEBORAH RANEY’s first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched her writing career after twenty happy years as a stay-at-home mom. She is currently writing a new five-book series, the The Chicory Inn Novels. Deb and her husband, Ken Raney, recently traded small-town life in Kansas––the setting of many of Deb’s novels––for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita. They love traveling to visit four children and five grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deb on the Web at

Here are more places where you can connect with author Deborah Raney:


Thanks to Abingdon Press and Litfuse Publicity for providing a complimentary book in exchange for my review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting | Permalink | Comments Off on Summer Reading for Moms: Deborah Raney’s ‘Two Roads Home’

May 23, 2015

Yesterday was the last day of school for my kids, so with summer here, I’m all for seeking ways to stay active. When I heard about Heidi Bond’s book, Who’s the New Kid? I couldn’t wait to read it.

It seems like every day I’m bombarded with adult weight loss success stories and before/after photos, yet I’d never seen or read anything about a child successfully losing weight. In fact, that’s one of those taboo topics, where mothers are more likely to say, “Well, that child is just big-boned.” Or “It’s hereditary, and he can’t help it.” In the South, we may even add, “Bless her heart.”

Heidi Bond knew her daughter needed help when, at age nine, Breanna tipped the scales at 186 pounds. She became fatigued just walking up the stairs to her room. Her legs chafed to the point of bleeding from rubbing against each other, and her school days were filled with taunts of “Hey, Fatty!”

The book explores Breanna’s infancy and childhood, as her mother looks for clues as to how her daughter became overweight. In infancy, Heidi noticed Breanna’s unusually strong appetite, and she confesses a personal struggle with junk food that made it easy for her daughter to access calorie-loaded snacks. But I’m sure all of us, if we’re honest, can plug ourselves into this equation. At first, Heidi tried hiding snacks to help her daughter eat healthier, but then a point came when she did what all of us should do: she decided to make a complete lifestyle change for her entire family.

And here’s where the real heart of the book lies, and why I found it so inspiring. Heidi succeeded in helping her daughter lose 86 pounds in a completely natural and healthy way. She didn’t use dangerous diet pills or crash diets; instead she began to incorporate two main activities: swimming and walking. She drove Breanna every day of the week to swim team practice, and this daily commitment became crucial to her weight loss transformation.

Also, one day a new neighbor invited Heidi to go walking on a 3.8 mile trail loop behind her house, something she’d never done before. She describes what happened:

“Sure,” I said. “Just let me put on some sneakers.”

I had no idea that this was a moment that would change all of our lives. It was an ordinary weekday like any other. The “Hallelujah Chorus” was not trumpeting in the background, and no neon signs lit up to tell me that this was The Day until a couple of months later. But looking back now, it’s obvious to me that this was where it all began.”

From that point on, Heidi began encouraging her entire family to walk together. Her husband and younger son also needed to lose some weight. All they needed to do was put on a pair of tennis shoes and head to the trail. After only a few weeks, Breanna had lost six pounds, and Heidi says, “Fireworks went off in my brain!” It was the first time Breanna had ever lost weight; in fact, she had been steadily gaining 20 pounds per year! Her mother writes:

The day I saw “possible” was the day I realized we were going to war against nine years of bad habits. It was a war we needed to win, because my daughter’s life was literally on the line. If we continued on our old path, it was clear what was going to happen to her: multiple health problems leading to an early grave, and a limited life where she wouldn’t be able to enjoy the things other people can do with ease…But now everything looked different.

Heidi developed a plan, which she called the “Five Four Three” Plan. Swimming five days a week, walking four days a week, and eating three healthy meals a day. The best part about this book is that she gives you a very detailed 40-day plan that you and your child or family can work on together, including dozens of delicious, healthy, and extremely easy-to-prepare recipes. I’ve been keeping this book on a shelf in my kitchen as I try out some of her recipes!

I appreciate this mother’s honesty as she shares both the ups and downs of her story. Some days were so hard. Not only did Heidi get rid of all junk food in her house, she literally walked every step of the way with her daughter. Her commitment was unbelievable, even walking in the rain, sleet, or freezing winter weather. She had to battle against early whining, which can be completely demoralizing, as every mother knows! She listened to Breanna’s complaints, and says her “resolve was being tested.”

Breanna was begging to stop the walks, and each time she came up with endless excuses about why she needed to stop. There was a pebble in her shoe. Her shoelace had come untied. Her shirt was itchy. She was hot and dizzy, and she was definitely going to throw up, and a bug flew in her shirt, and a twig was stuck in her shoe, and there was bubble gum stuck to the street, and it looked like rain was coming, and she was sure she was going to die of thirst, and she was sure her kneecap was going to pop right off. Some of those things were true, and some of them weren’t. It didn’t really matter.

“Keep going,” I said. I wasn’t going to waver. No matter what.

Gradually, naturally, the weight began to drop off. When Breanna started school the next year, several kids didn’t even recognize her! That’s where the title of the book comes from. Her story got picked up by a local journalist, which led to national recognition and appearances on Good Morning America, CNN, and The Biggest Loser. You can keep up with Heidi and Breanna’s updates on her website. I loved watching her and her mother tell the story in person on Good Morning America:

I hope you’ll have a chance to read the whole book! Filled with helpful diagnostic tools, easy-to-make recipes, eye-opening nutritional information, fun exercise ideas, and practical tips and advice, Who’s the New Kid? will not only show parents how to help their kids lose weight naturally but also introduce them to simple, yet effective lifestyle changes that will benefit the entire family.

Celebrate the release of Who’s the New Kid? by entering to win a Fitbit and RSVPing to Heidi’s June 9th author chat party!

One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A Fitbit
  • A copy of Who’s the New Kid?

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on June 9th. Winner will be announced June 9th at Heidi’s Facebook partyRSVP here! Plus, participate in the #WhosTheNewKid conversation by pinning a family-friendly, healthy recipe (or two) to a Pinterest board!


RSVP today and spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on June 9th!

Note: I received this book, complimentary, in exchange for my honest review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Cooking & Recipes,Family,Motherhood,Parenting,Wellness | Permalink | Comments Off on Heidi Bond’s Who’s the New Kid? Fitbit Giveaway and Facebook Party