Guide to State Parks

State ParksPublisher: National Geographic Press

Release Date: March 6, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

With pictures, maps, and visiting tips, this new edition is an adventurer’s must have!

Broken into ten regions, each section gives highlights of select state parks throughout all fifty states. Each state is featured with a group of ideal state parks to visit, which includes a map showing the location of the state park within the state as well as one or two color photos that the traveler can expect to take in a certain times of the year.  Each state park also provides information on operating times, what to see and do, lodging information, and nearby sights.  Additionally, a more compressive list of other state parks is included to the few featured for each state in case the traveler’s appetite is whetted for more adventure.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was seeing how many of the state parks that I have already visited. We are a family who love to go state and national parks and enjoy nature through hiking, biking, kayaking, and so on.  This is another book that we have already earmarked pages of places that we want to visit.  We’re heading out to California in June and are planning to check out one of these new parks along the way.  It is easy to navigate and will be a resource we consistently reference.  I recommend this book for the traveler and those who love to read about nature.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Guide to Scenic Byways and Highways of the United States

Scenic BywaysPublisher: National Geographic Press

Release Date: February 6, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

With pictures, maps, and visiting tips, this new edition is a road warriors must have!

Broken into ten regions, each section gives highlights of scenic drives throughout all fifty states. Each state is featured with a group of ideal drives, which includes a map showing the location and relative distance of the drive as well as one or two color photos that the traveler can expect to take in a certain times of the year.  Each drive is also provided with some points of interest to stop along the way as well as a little history.  Undoubtedly this doesn’t catch every scenic trip worth taking, but is sure to get even the amateur traveler started in the right direction.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was seeing how many of the drives I have already done. On the ones that I’ve completed, the pictures brought back memories of the drive and I might even add to the list of some of the points of interest.  It also gives me a great guide for future places that I want to visit.  We’ve always been an “out of the way” travel family preferring to take the less traveled path rather than get there as quick as possible, so this book was right up our alley.  I recommend this to people who like to travel and get ideas about places that they would like to visit.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Fiercehearted

FierceheartedAuthor: Holley Gerth

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: October 3, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

What I wouldn’t give to be Fierce Hearted at all times. The advice Holley gives throughout the book is important for every woman to hear to help them thrive.

In her latest book, Holley Gerth gives her readers the best advice possible to become the strongest, fiercest woman they can be. We all have the ability to be fierce hearted deep inside of us if we are only able to reach down and find it. Throughout the pages, Holley will help readers discover the freedom they never knew existed. To keep the pace, the book is layered throughout with personal stories to give the reader a sense of belonging in the story. With everyday real issues at the center of every chapter, it shows we are all the same even with our differences and that is what makes us fierce.

While a few sections of the book took longer for me to get through than the rest, I still feel there is a very good message throughout that all women need to remember. We have the ability to be stronger than we realize if we will rely on God to show us that strength and let it shine through.  It can be hard to let that strength show when we feel beaten down and discouraged.  But we never have to do it alone, God places people in our lives at just the right times to help bring that strength and Fierce Heartedness out of us, even when we didn’t know we had it inside in the first place.  If we can learn to be obedient and follow that little voice inside of us, it will lead us further than we ever thought possible.  I do believe the book could have been condensed a fraction in order to not lose the readers interest at times, but overall it is a great message that needs to be read.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Tunnels

The TunnelsAuthor: Greg Mitchell

Publisher: Crown

Release Date: October 18, 2016

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

History lovers will love this exciting description of the first year of escapes under the Berlin wall.

In August of 1961, a physical barrier was erected separating the already tense division between East and West Berlin. Germans who lived in East Berlin but worked in the West were suddenly found unemployed.  Families were separated, but many felt the wall wouldn’t last.  They expected to see it come down any day as a failed experiment.  Slowly, the barbed wire fence become concrete and finding a weak area to cross or escape was getting more and more difficult.  However, a few people with a passion to see their fellow Germans free worked to figure out a way to tunnel under the wall and bring escapees into the West.  Some were successful, others not as much. The Tunnels explores these expeditions as well as the tensions between Washington, Berlin, and Russia during one of the most tense times in history.

Prior to this book, I knew about the Berlin wall, but not about what all it represented and how much it divided families across the city and country. Reading the descriptions about how oppressed the East was and how people trying to escape were killed and the propaganda was used to make them look like their death was a good thing was appalling.  It is hard to believe that this was just over fifty years ago.

Mitchell did a great job presenting this book in a way that read more like a novel than a nonfiction historical account. It was fascinating, quick to read, and educating.  Since reading this, I have shared it with over readers who felt the same way.  I really enjoyed getting to find out more about the time frame and how the Kennedy administration handled the situations and how it impacted the Cold War.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested about the wall or just about the era itself.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Top 5 Nonfiction

Next up is our top picks for nonfiction.  Any of these would be great last minute Christmas gifts!

Laught it up

1.  Laugh it Up by Candace Payne

Chewbacca mom anyone?  This book is just as infectious as her famous laugh.

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

courage-to-soar

2. Courage to Soar by Simone Biles

Many Olympic athletes know from a very early age that they want to go for the gold. Simone Biles start in the world of gymnastics came about in a rather unconventional way.  It is nice to read a story of someone so accomplished and see how they have stayed grounded as well as understand the difficulties they have faced.

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

 

The Last Girl

3. The Last Girl by Nadia Murad

A shocking first hand account of the terrors of ISIS on many young women.  This book will inspire you to join Nadia’s cause!

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lets be real

4. Let’s be Real by Natasha Bure

In today’s world it is hard for teens to find someone that is actually worth looking up to. Natasha Bure shows it is ok to be ok with yourself and gives teen girls someone they can have as a role model that their parents will approve of.

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

 

 

Heaven

5. Between Heaven and the Real Word by Steven Curtis Chapman

His story is one that some of his fans may be aware of, but many aspects of his life that he shares in the book will be new to even his most devoted fans making this book worth reading.

Read the full review here.

Laugh it Up

Laught it upAuthor: Candace Payne

Publisher: Zondervan

Release Date: November 7, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Everyone fell in love with Candace Payne with the video of her wearing a Chewbacca mask and loving every minute of it went viral. Now she has a book out that will make you love her even more.

Candace Payne had no idea that buying a simple Star Wars toy would lead to the life she has now. She is a wife and mother of two from Dallas Texas and has captured the hearts of nearly 200 million with her infectious laugh all while wearing a Chewbacca mask and recording a video on her phone for Facebook.  It quickly became the top viewed video at Facebook and lead to a slew of interviews and opportunities she might never have otherwise had. Laugh It Up tells the story of how she has found laughter in some of the most difficult circumstances and worked her way through to become the person she is today.

Like you, I can remember the first time I saw the video of Candace wearing the mask and couldn’t keep from laughing. There was just something about her laugh and wearing that masks that made me watch the video over and over just to put a smile on my face. Laugh It Up goes deep into what has made Candace Payne the woman she is today.  Without knowing the backstory, we can’t truly appreciate her.  Her words are both funny and heartfelt.  Just like most of us she has gone through her share of struggles and luckily has found a way to overcome those struggles and find something to laugh and smile about, which in turn, has made millions of others laugh as well.  There are going to be those that don’t like what she has to say, there always are.  But for the majority of readers they will hopefully come away with a better understanding of Chewbacca Mom and what truly makes her someone for us to look to and say there are good things in this life and things to laugh about, we just have to find them.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Fugitive’s Sister

Fugitive sisterAuthor: Linda L. Case

Publisher: W & B Publishers Inc.

Release Date: October 29, 2015

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A miscarriage of justice of an innocent sister sent to prison as a ploy to get her sister, the real criminal behind bars.

When Linda’s brother dies she promises him that she will take care of their mother and younger sister, Becky. Two days after the funeral, Becky’s company is found to be under investigation by the FBI, who shuts it down and convicts Becky of several white collar crimes looking at a possible seventy five years in prison. Becky, never one to stick around for a punishment, runs off and becomes one of America’s Most Wanted criminals. Shortly after she disappears, she makes contact with Linda for help. Linda is in a tough place; she wants to fulfill her promise to her bother and protect her sister but worries if she is doing the right thing. She soon finds out the FBI has been waiting for her to do something that can be used against her to bring her sister to justice. Linda finds herself where her sister should be, behind bars. While Linda struggles to survive and her family fights to free her, flaws in the justice system become visible and heed the warning of what happened to Linda could happen to anyone.

The true story of what Linda Case went through is one that could rival any crime novel out there. I never really felt like I was reading a biography because the story flowed so well. It was a story of what this family went through and not just a retelling of events, which I enjoyed. Linda had some really difficult times she had to endure and reading about her sister and the way she was treated by not only Becky but also the FBI and judges involved made me feel for her and the situation she was in.  You can easily say the things she went through were not fair, and the lack of remorse her sister showed for what she made everyone go through was enough to make her out to be a very good antagonist in the story. The ending was kind of abrupt to me. I wish there would have been a little more time spent following through on the characters and what happened instead of the ending it had (I don’t want to say anymore and give something away).  I would recommend this to readers that enjoy a good true crime story with elements that each family can relate to in some way.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Last Girl

The Last GirlAuthor: Nadia Murad

Publisher: Tim Duggan Books

Release Date: November 7, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

You sure you want to know the truth about ISIS? Read this and find out about inhumane trafficking.

Nadia Murad is a Yazidi who spent her entire life in the village of Kocho in Iraq. She was from a large family who worked as farmers.  The families had to be large to have enough children to help work the farms.  The more kids you had, the larger of farm you could handle.  Still, she went to school and learned the material placed into Iraq’s educational systems, which also wasn’t fully truthful.  Yazidis have been persecuted for several years by several different groups.  They are different in that they have no holy book such as the koran or a bible, but keep their religion alive by passing stories down between priests for centuries.  However, they have also survived alongside Sunni Arabs and Kurds without any problems, until ISIS came.  The day they came into town, everything changed.  The routes out of town were cut and nobody was allowed to leave.  Fear drove people to stay inside their homes, but nothing happened to them until the day they told the people to either convert to Islam or be taken to their holy mountain.  Hopeful, everybody came to the schoolhouse to be taken to their holy mountain only to have all of the men and older women slaughtered.  Young boys were sent to an ISIS training compound and the young women were forced to become sex slaves for ISIS militants.  Nadia was bought, sold, raped, and abused in a sickening cycle that is condoned by the caliphate.  Miraculously, She was able to finally escape to safety and tell her story.  Nadia has been featured in Time magazine and told her story in front of thousands including the United Nations Security Council.

These are the stories that never make it to the news in the United States. Stories that you can’t believe are true, but know they must be.  Stories that make you sick when reading them.  Stories that make you cry for the women that have gone through this and are going through this right now.  Stories that make you believe in human rights activism because someone told her story.  Someone wants it to stop.  That someone is Nadia Murad and her story is sad, yet incredible.  How this can happen in today/s society is truly bewildering.  Living in the United States can be easily taken for granted.  News stories are centered around rating points rather than what is going on in the world.  Nadia’s story inspires me to make a difference.  To help others.  To put an end to the violence and sex trafficking.

I hope if Nadia reads this review, she will know she has an ally a world away to fight for her.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

It Takes One to Tango

tangoAuthor: Winifred M. Reilly

Publisher: Touchstone Hardcover

Release Date: April 7, 2017

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

Marriage counseling is something that people usually do together in hopes of resolving issues and “fixing” what is broken in the marriage.  It is often used to improve communication, clear the air, and foster honesty and intimacy.  Ms. Reilly doesn’t dispute most of this, but she does believe that just one person can make all the difference.

Contrary to what many couples and counselors believe, she purports that if just one person changes his or her attitude and reaction to how the other acts, it will ultimately improve the entire marriage.  She has many case studies to support her theory, and most meaningful to her is her own.  She is the first to admit that she and her husband have had numerous arguments that ended in at least one of them wanting divorce, and after numerous counseling sessions, they both realized that they did not want that.  Instead, they took baby steps to improve their marriage by improving themselves.  For example, she is chronically late.  Her husband gets steamed over that and says she is inconsiderate.  Instead of complaining about it, he just patiently waits.  This in turn encourages her to work on being more punctual.  Conversely, he is, in her opinion, sloppy.  Instead of yelling at her husband to pick up his dirty clothes, Ms. Reilly doesn’t say a word.  Her lack of complaining fosters a resolve in him to pick up after himself.  Sure, they slip back into their old ways now and again, but they find that it is much easier to get along when they individually work to make things better.

There are many good tips in the book explaining how changing one’s own reactions to a partner changes the entire relationship, and while I am not sold on all of them, most make sense.  Moreover, there are many techniques that would easily apply in other relationship situations besides a marriage.  Working relationships, friendships, even relationships among family members, can benefit from each party taking a step back and being more cognizant of how he or she reacts to another person or situation.  Not everything works for every situation, but many tips here can easily work in common interpersonal relationships.

Having been married for over 20 years myself, I thought my husband and I had things pretty well worked out.  However, as I read the book, I could easily apply some of Ms. Reilly’s suggestions to our common areas where we get stuck.  Once I realized that I needed to identify what I wanted in a calm and rational tone, or that he needed to stay calm when I called him out on something, it worked a lot better.  Anyone can certainly benefit from Ms. Reilly’s observations.

I highly recommend this book for people who are in challenging relationships but don’t want to give up on them.  They will certainly find, if they give it a chance, something that will help.  I will not reveal all the tips in the book, but there are many that will make sense and be effective if given a good attempt.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Loveable

LoveableAuthor: Kelly Flanagan

Publisher: Zondervan

Release Date: March 21, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The kind of book we all need to read to remember that we are worthy of love and can do all the things we want if we don’t give into fear, shame, and self-doubt.

In a world where our self-worth is based on how many likes we get or how many friends we have, it is nice to take a step back and remember that life is about more than that. Dr. Flanagan is a clinical psychologist and father that became famous for the letters he writes to his children.  He posted these letters on his blog which went viral and brought about an appearance on The Today Show.  Flanagan shares that we are all here for a reason and if we will learn to trust our self-worth and let others love us, we can find that purpose.

Loveable is the kind of book that will awaken something deep within us all that has easily been forgotten. With social media so popular and the basis for how we judge our self-worth, it is easy to forget that life is about so much more than that.  The human interaction we crave is so important.  Being with people and letting them actually be with us, on a deeper level, is so important.  We need to be more like an onion, peel back our layers of protection and expose our vulnerable selves.  It may hurt, but in the end, we will all be better for it.  I enjoyed what he had to say towards the end, take a breath and just go for it.  Whatever it is that might be holding you back, just go for it and be better because of it.  You don’t want to wake up on your last day and regret the things that were so deep inside of you that you were afraid to even try.  You might fail, in fact most of us will fail more than once, but that’s ok.  Take the good with the bad and make it all better.  Offer the love and respect that you so crave to everyone else and watch it eventually make its way back around.  Be the change you want to see and show the love you want to receive. That’s what life is all about.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.