Book Review: The Austen Escape

While I tend to gravitate toward historical fiction when I’m in the mood for a novel, there is something charming about present day settings that root in history.

Katherine Reay’s The Austen Escape follows the present day lives of characters Mary Davies and her childhood best friend Isabel Dwyer, and places them in a 19th century world of a “character holiday”, in which participants leave their current lives and play the role of characters in Jane Austen novels for two weeks. This “Austen Escape”, from which the book takes its title, takes place in a Jane Austen inspired manor house in England. Mary Davies is an engineer who has recently suffered a career setback, and reluctantly travels with Isabel (who is working on her thesis about Jane Austen) to the escape.

During the Escape, Isabel suffers memory loss, and truly believes herself to be a regency lady, and has no recollection of anyone or anything in the present. As a result, Mary learns some potentially divisive information about a certain man, Nathan, whom they both admire. Can Mary and Isabel survive as friends? What will happen when Isabel remembers her life?

I found this book to be a bit slow. While I did like the writing style, and found it to be witty and entertaining, the plot was a bit unsatisfying. The character whom both women comes to odds about in England, Nathan, really doesn’t seem to be that important of a character. Mary quietly admires him, but doesn’t seem to be lovestruck. And, Isabel says at the beginning of the book that they’re not even really dating–just that they hang out casually and have mutual friends. So the love triangle really isn’t that much of a love triangle at all, which is really the crux of the story.

I did feel like I was back in Jane Austen’s time, and appreciated the witticism of the dialogue, but I think there could have been a lot of room for improvement in the plot, but I didn’t really consider this to be a “Christian” novel, as there was no dialogue about God and one scene takes place in a bar.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher and BookLook bloggers. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way. I was not required to give a positive review of this book.

Cookbook Review: The Grand Central Market Cookbook

In the 33 years I’ve lived in Southern California, I’ve only been to Los Angeles proper a small handful of times. We often drive through the outskirts on our trips up north, but it isn’t really a place we want to stay and bring the kids. I’ve always thought of LA as a southern California version of Las Vegas–an overly commercial environment with excessive vanity in both the city itself and its citizens. So, I was actually pleasantly surprised to read about the family favorite recipes in The Grand Central Market Cookbook: Cuisine and Culture from Downtown Los Angeles.

This cookbook draws its recipes from the vendors and shop owners in downtown Los Angeles’ iconic food hall, Grand Central Market. Grand Central Market (GCM) has been a local diverse food court since 1917 and has recently seen a rebirth in popularity. Today, GCM has a motto: “From food, community.” The market boasts a large, culturally diverse community with vendors selling everything from tacos to pupusas to pepitas, from deli dill pickles to pastrami on rye to bagels and lox. From Curried shrimp to Som Tum to Nashville Hot Fried Chicken. Surely, there is something for everyone, and the next time I find myself in Los Angeles, it may be worth a trip to see this iconic spot.

Now, on to the cookbook itself. There are seven chapters: Breakfast; Tacos, Etc; Carbs; Happy Hour; Meat and Fish; Veg; and Sweets. Each of the recipes either come from one of GCMs vendors, or it was written by the cookbook author using GCM as inspiration.

Some of the Breakfast recipes include: Huevos Rancheros, Chicken Chop Suey, Coconut Cream Doughnuts, and several juice/smoothie recipes.

The Taco, Etc. chapter includes such offerings as homemade corn and flour tortillas, carne asada, pork in chile verde, and vegan crunchy avocado tacos.

Carbs includes vegetable chow mein, curry udon, ancient grains bowl with kombucha dressing, and grilled margherita pizza.

From Happy Hour, appetizers such as herb tahini dip and cheesy potatoes to spiked drinks.

Meat and Fish: Big Meatballs with Amatriciana Sauce, Thai BBQ Chicken, and Nashville Style Hot Fried Chicken Sando

Veg includes recipes such as Pinto Beans, Sauerkraut Salad, and Pressed Cucumber Salad

Finally, in Sweets, Mini chocolate chip cookies, salted caramel bread pudding, horchata, and cinnamon ice cream.

This cookbook is part recipes and part memoir. It is written in homage to the community that keeps Grand Central Market alive. The photos show a sense of community by showing someone’s hands in every photo–and I think that is probably my least favorite part of this book. Hands working on the food, hands delivering the food…I understand the cookbook is meant to show the people and culture behind the food, so I get why they did it, but hands in my food just isn’t very appetizing. Otherwise, this was a really interesting cookbook that helped me understand the culture behind this iconic food market.

*I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way.

Book Review: The Lifegiving Table

I am a big fan of Sally Clarkson and her books. From her homeschooling tips to her parenting advice, to sharing her homekeeping skills, Sally has been a source of encouragement to me, so I was very much looking forward to reading The Lifegiving Table, her newest book. This book takes many of the home-ministry concepts from The Lifegiving Home and adapts them for, of course, the table.

The Lifegiving Table contains 14 chapters about why and how you should turn your kitchen table into a place of feasting for friends, family, and anyone that walks into your home. Sally Clarkson explains how feasting at the table with family and friends can nurture every part of a person…physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The other thing I liked about this book was that each chapter featured several “Clarkson Family Favorite” recipes, such as Easy-Peasy Chicken and Rice, Sally’s Birthday Cinnamon Rolls, Sarah’s Best Cream Scones, and Much-Better-Than-Delivery-Homemade Pizza.

I have really been contemplating the main idea behind this book–how you can effectively minister to the hearts and needs of your family by being intentional with mealtime. And as much as I would love to say that all my meals are prepared in a flourish of happiness with adoring, well-behaved children enthusiastically eating the made-from-scratch, organic feast set before them, that just doesn’t happen. Sometimes it’s really all I can do just to get a meal on the table. So, I really appreciated the chapter entitled Living Out Grace, that affirms these seasons of life. Sally gives some advice, though, that I have been trying to take to heart. First, to prepare for busy times by making freezer meals when I get the chance, to not feel guilty about having “snack meals”, and that the heart of ministering through a meal is more important than the meal itself.

Once again, I have found great advice from Sally Clarkson about how to create a restful, inviting home in the midst of this crazy world.

*I received a copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way.

Book Review: Cherished Mercy

I’ve been looking forward to the third and final installment of Tracie Peterson’s Heart of the Frontier series after reading the first two books in the series, Treasured Grace and Beloved Hope. The series follows the lives of the three Flanagan sisters, beginning with the historical event of the Cayuse Indian attack on Whitman Mission in present-day Washington State in 1847.

Book one tells us about the Flanagan sisters’ trek west, and their experiences in the Whitman massacre. It tells of Grace and her newfound relationship with future husband, Hope and her devastating horrors at the hands of the Cayuse men who took the women at the mission hostage, and Mercy, who was only twelve at the time, and how she saw the attacks.

Book two takes place a few years later, and focuses on Hope and her journey of healing from the attacks.

Book three, Cherished Mercy, obviously focuses on Mercy. This story takes place 8 years after the attacks on the Whitman Mission, although there are still strong tensions with the local Indian populace. Mercy has been asked by friends Eletta and Isaac Browning to travel south through Oregon Territory to help with Eletta’s difficult pregnancy, and increasing tensions with the natives at the mission where Isaac is a minister.

While with the Brownings, Mercy meets Isaac’s brother Adam and is intrigued by him, although Adam seems to push her away. After several tragedies, Adam and Mercy begin to wonder if a relationship is part of God’s will for them.

Like the other two books in the series, I really enjoyed Cherished Mercy. It was a good final book in the trilogy, as it brought things full circle. (Not to spoil, but I enjoyed the ending…) While it was a sad and difficult time in history, I was happy to read about the Flanagan girls and how they managed to continue trusting in God despite their world being so uncertain and difficult.

I am sad this series is done, but I look forward to reading the next series Tracie Peterson is working on!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way.

The Anniversary I Forgot

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The other day I looked over at the calendar…September 15th. Not a day of note. We didn’t have any plans. But, I was surprised at the date. Not because of the date it was, but because of the date I forgot.

September 12, 2012. The day Junior was diagnosed with profound hearing loss. The day that officially began our special needs journey. The day I thought I could never forget because the grief was etched so strongly in my mind and heart. As I sat in that sterile audiologist’s office holding my sleeping infant as she went over the results of his failed hearing test, her words were unintelligible through my tears. I thought our world was over…I thought we would never be happy again.

And yet…

The five year anniversary of this life-changing date was missed. Overlooked. Forgotten. That date I thought was forever going to shape my world and become a solemn reminder of our challenges has now become “just another day.”

Being the parent of a deaf child isn’t easy. It never will be. Our days are still filled with therapies and frustrations and broken cochlear implant pieces and phone calls to specialists and insurance companies. But, they are also filled with laughter, joy, and pride. They are filled with Junior whispering in my ear that he loves me, with books and reading and singing, and with Junior telling everyone he meets that he wants to be an astronaut when he grows up so he can visit Jupiter and the Moon like any other five year old boy.

Five years ago, I never thought a day would go by when I didn’t think about the day he was diagnosed. But now, because of all the lessons we have learned along the way, like hope and perseverance, determination and gratitude, it is a day that barely gets a second thought.