Book Review: Schools in Crisis: They Need Your Help

I am going to be a first-time parent in August and we’ve already started discussing what to do when our daughter is old enough for school. It only takes a quick glance at the news to see that our public school system is not what it used to be, and it has left many Christian parents wondering what is truly best for their children.

This is my first “Frames” book and I was really impressed with the format. The Barna Group has taken a great amount of detailed research about a difficult topic and has compiled it into a short, easy-to-read book, providing a great resource for parents (and others) who are concerned with the state of our public schools.

From the book’s description:

Millions of children are not fulfilling their God-given potential in many of our nation’s classrooms. Their potential and purpose is literally being left on the floor of classrooms in many low-income communities. What may God have called them to do? How will a substandard education possibly prohibit them from accomplishing that purpose? In what ways are Christians and churches accountable for that? How are we our brother and sister’s keeper with respect to a quality education?

Join Nicole Baker Fulgham, formerly on the national staff of Teach for America and the founder of The Expectations Project, as she explores what our role is in solving the nation’s crisis for public education. This Barna Frame explores a critical topic of our time – Schools in Crisis…

If you have children or are simply a concerned citizen, pick up this book. It will prove to be a great resource as you navigate what action you should take.

I received a copy of this book from BookLook bloggers in exchange for my honest review.


Product Review: Sargento Ultra Thin Cheese Slices

I love cheese! It’s definitely on my top ten list of favorite foods.

So, when I was asked to try Sargento’s new Ultra Thin Cheese Slices (that are only 40-45 calories each!), I was ready!

What I liked most about these were the thin slices – we made quesadillas with them and the cheese melted so quickly and evenly! They are rich in flavor despite their size, so you don’t miss the extra calories.

Check them out the next time you need sliced cheese. They are reasonably priced, only 40-45 calories per slices, and they are DELICIOUS.


received these products complimentary for testing purposes from Influenster.


Book Review: Iscariot

Iscariot: A Novel of Judas by Tosca Lee is a compelling, well-researched piece of historical fiction that helps give us an idea of what Judas might have been like and how his past may have influenced his final action of betrayal.

The Bible tells us little about Judas – about his past, about his life in general - so we have no context on which to base our assumptions about why he would choose to betray Jesus into the hands of His enemies. The author spent a year and a half researching the cultural and religious context of those years and of people like Judas in order to paint a clearer picture of what his life may have been like, and the result is a wonderfully written, thought-provoking novel that made me think differently about Judas and about what it was like to follow Jesus, too. Ms. Lee also spends a great deal of time focusing on Jesus and His ministry, bringing the words of the Bible to life in a new way.

Yes, this is a work of fiction, but it brings such a different perspective of Judas that it is worth reading and considering. We do not know what Judas’ motivations were, and it is possible that he wasn’t the purely evil man I was raised to think that he was. Of course, it is possible that he was evil and we were right in our assumptions. Only time will tell.

Pick up a copy and allow your mind to be open to the possibility that Judas wasn’t who you thought he was and that he was a man who made mistakes, just like us. I really enjoyed this book!

I received a copy of this book from Howard Books in exchange for my honest review.


An Interview with Tosca Lee, Author of Iscariot

I just started reading this book and was very excited when I was asked to share this Q&A with the author! Check it out! I will be reviewing the book later this week.

In addition to the Q&A, Tosca is offering a special giveaway to her readers this Easter. Enter by April 19th for a chance to win one of three great prizes:

  • A complete signed library of Tosca’s work including Demon, Havah, Iscariot and the Mortals Triology
  • A signed copy of the Havok Magazine edition that includes Tosca’s Ninja short story
  • A 30-minute video chat with Tosca that could include a critique of up to ten pages of your writing.

See Tosca’s website for details and entry information.


History has called him many things: Thief. Liar. Traitor. Reviled throughout history and infamous for his suicide, he is the man whose very name is synonymous with betrayal . . .

And the only disciple that Jesus called “friend.”

But who would take a journey through the Lenten season with Judas, of all people?

The answer: readers of New York Times bestselling author Tosca Lee’s Iscariot, in which Lee dares to delve into biblical history’s most maligned character—from his tumultuous childhood to his emergence as the man known to the world as the betrayer of Jesus. But more than the story of one man, Iscariot is a view into the life of Jesus that forces readers to reexamine what they thought they knew about two of the most famous—and infamous—religious icons in history.

The study guide, “A Journey with Judas,” is available to book clubs and small groups free along with daily devotionals from now until Easter at

Who is Tosca Lee, and why did she choose to write a book on the Bible’s most controversial character? An interview with the award-winning author of Havah: The Story of Eve and the Books of Mortals trilogy (with Ted Dekker) follows.

Q: How did you start writing biblical fiction?

A: I kind of fell into it, actually. Around 2000, I wrote this story about a fallen angel. I did it in six weeks. And then it took nearly seven years to sell. When we were doing the deal, the editor said, “What else do you have?” I rummaged around and found one page I had done a year before of a very old Eve starting to tell her story. I don’t know why I started writing that, but I pulled it out and said, “I have this!” And they bought it. It eventually became the prologue to Havah: The Story of Eve.

Q: Why Judas? Of all people—why did you choose to write about him?

A: Several years ago, an editor—the same editor who acquired Demon and Havah—suggested a story on Judas. I’d already done a fallen angel and Eve, after all. I flatly refused. Too much research. Too much controversy. Too hard. But the idea started following me around. Finally, about a year later, I was sitting in this New York restaurant eating dinner and found myself scribbling a scene between Judas and his mother on the paper tablecloth. I knew then I was a goner. I realized I wanted to become this disciple Jesus called “friend,” wanted to slip into his skin and sit down next to this enigmatic teacher and healer that people to this day call “Messiah.” I wanted to see and experience him, for myself.

I tore the scene off, shoved it in my purse, and called my agent a few days later, hoping he would talk me out of it. He didn’t. After two years of research, with much fear and trembling, I started writing.

Q: Did you always want to be a writer?

A: Writing was never the plan, even though I’d won some contests growing up in school. Ballet was my first love—I danced with a local ballet company as a teenager and spent my summers studying dance in Kansas City and New York. But within a few years I literally outgrew ballet: I’m nearly six feet tall en pointe. After a torn groin and other injuries, I knew it just wasn’t going to happen. The summer after my freshman year in college, I decided I’d take a stab at writing a novel. I wrote it. It got rejected. It’s still in a crate down in my basement like a skeleton. I’m afraid to look at it. It’s probably got three arms and two heads.

Q:  What’s the coolest thing about writing biblical/historical fiction?

A: We all know the story of Judas, of Adam and Eve—of myriad other two-dimensional characters we first met as flannel board characters in Sunday School with just the barest detail to define the morality tale of their lives. But if these were real people, then they had hopes, aspirations, influences, and motivations. There’s always more to the story. And that makes them much more like us than we might care to admit. That’s scary. Inevitably—and this happened with Iscariot, too—there comes a point about hallway through the story where I realize I’m no longer writing Judas’ story, or Eve’s… but my own.

Q:  Iscariot has been recognized as a Best Christian Fiction title of 2013 by the Library Journal and has been nominated for several other awards. Why do you think Iscariot resonates with readers?

A: I think because like Judas, we are all seeking answers. We are seeking some kind of deliverance—maybe not from Roman occupation, but from a situation, or a fear, or a sickness, anything. We are looking for answers, and expecting God to intervene in certain ways. I think we all identify with trying so hard to do the right things, with having expectations for how God will act, and how, if I do this and that, God will do this and that. But it doesn’t always work out that way, and the question becomes how we will respond. I think we all can identify with that. And I think we all find ourselves completely ruined, in the best and worst of ways, by love we cannot understand.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?

A: I love to adventure travel—whether it’s fishing for piranha in the Amazon or trekking through the Balkans, every now and then I just have to get out of town. And I cook. There was a time when I could burn water and ruin cereal, but today I make a pretty mean quiche and haven’t managed to poison anyone in years.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: The Queen of Sheba! I figured it was time to be a girl again.

For more on Tosca and her books, including the free reading guide “A Journey with Judas,” go to


Book Review: For Such a Time by Kate Breslin

I started reading For Such a Time and could barely stop reading it or thinking about what was going to happen next. I knew after the first few pages that it was a winner and I was not disappointed!

This book retells the biblical story of Queen Esther in the context of WWII Germany – a context that is all too real for us even 70 years later. The author skillfully weaves the biblical story in with the truthful horrors of the holocaust, carefully developing each character along the way.

I loved the character development of the Nazi soldiers/officers that were the main characters (Xerxes and Naman from the biblical account), and how the author took time to show how their past may have affected and hardened their hearts toward the Jewish people they were forced to destroy. So often I think of the Nazi soldiers as animals, as less than human, without considering what might have caused them to become that way – not to offer grace, but to better understand how humans can become so hateful toward one another so that we can be aware.

The main character of the book, Hadassah, also known as Stella, represents Esther (in fact, Hadassah is the Hebrew word for Esther), and we are able to see how this young girl becomes the unlikely hero of a few thousand Jews she tries to help given her position with the Nazi officer she works for as a secretary. As her uncle tells her from the beginning, she was brought there “for such a time as this” to be the salvation for her people.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I was fully engaged throughout the entire book and couldn’t wait to find out what happened! It is very well written, and the author did her best to incorporate real WWII events (as she mentions in the afterword) to remember the sacrifices the Jewish people had to make.

If you love history, if you love the story of Esther, you MUST read this book.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review. 

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Five Years Ago Today…

Sometimes I wish that God would help us out a little in terms of recognizing moments that we should remember vividly forever. :) A little nudge would be amazing.

My best example: when I met Brennan. That was a slightly important moment in my life, and I honestly don’t remember much about it.

It was five years ago today, Easter Sunday, sometime around noon. It was at East Shore Baptist Church. My life was about to change and I had NO idea.

I remember that I had been up since 4:00am and had just helped lead three worship services. I was exhausted. I remember that his mom said something about wanting me to meet someone, and me (the exhausted introvert) reluctantly following her. I remember inviting him to our newly formed “singles” class the following week and not saying much else.

Why is it that we can often remember the boring, unimportant details about such important moments, but not the details that really matter? Why can’t I remember what he was wearing, what he said, how he looked at me, etc.? In these moments, a little nudge from God would be SO helpful.

Mr. and Mrs. Brackbill!

In the past five years, so much has happened.

We were friends for three months, dated for six, were engaged
for nine, and have been married for three and a half.
Since our wedding, we have had three addresses.
We are expecting our first child, a daughter, in August 2014.

And, much like the song we danced to on our wedding day says, “…and I thought I loved you then.”
I never could have imagined how much love grows and deepens almost daily!

“What I can’t see is how I’m ever gonna love you more – but I’ve said that before…”

I may not remember very clearly how we met, but I am no less thankful for what joy the last five years have brought to my life.

I wasn’t looking for love that day, or even a date. But God, in His sovereignty and grace, redeemed that uneventful first meeting and turned it into a lifelong love.

Like a river meets the sea, stronger than its ever been
We’ve come so far since that day, and I thought I loved you then”


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Book Review: Smart Money Smart Kids

Smart Money Smart Kids is a MUST read for any parent who wants to ensure that their children learn from an early age that money is a responsibility to be taken seriously.

It’s no secret that I am a HUGE fan of Dave Ramsey’s principles – they have changed our financial outlook forever.  So, when I saw that he and his daughter, Rachel, were writing a book about how to instill financial wisdom within children, I was immediately excited. Even though we have a few years before we’ll be teaching our not-yet-born daughter about money, it’s really important to start learning these lessons now so that we can implement them later with ease.

Dave and Rachel have broken down important concepts – such as budgeting, college, working hard, etc. – into “easy to reference later” chapters so that it’s not only something to learn from now, but a book you can reference again and again as you parent your children into adulthood.

In this culture of credit, debt, and impulsive spending, it is SO vital that we teach our children to save, give, and to WORK. Otherwise, they will fall into the same traps that we did – student loan debt, car payments, credit cards.

I long for our children to experience the freedom that we are working so hard now as adults to achieve! We are ready to break the chains of debt in our family tree and to teach our children to “live like no one else” – which will change the legacy of our family forever. This book has prepared us well for what lies ahead and has been a great reminder that we must also LIVE OUT these concepts if we want our children to embrace them.

I will blog about specific concepts later – but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share this book with you!

To pre-order the book AND receive extra material, click here! It will be released on April 22, 2014.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: Moment Maker by Carlos Whittaker

We’ve all been in a place where we’re living on auto-pilot just trying to survive, or where we’re so focused on our plans and schedules that we miss out on some of the best spontaneous moments life has to offer. Moment Maker is a book that I am confident will change your perspective on life and help you to live each moment better than before, because life doesn’t have to be boring.

The author, Carlos Whittaker, has learned that life is so much more enjoyable and memorable when moments are created instead of just waiting for life to happen. He uses personal examples from his life to show how easy it really is to change our mentality about the “interruptions” in our lives, as well as taking advantage of opportunities to make memorable moments. In each chapter, Carlos brings us back to the example Jesus gave us of how to live an abundant life, and I really loved that.

One of my favorite real-life examples of this being lived out in Carlos’ life is this video.

From the book description:

We live in a world where we’re constantly on the lookout for the next “BIG” thing but sometimes the most amazing stories are the spontaneous adventures we experience on our life detour…This book is for people who are tired; the ones waiting for better moments to come along…When you say “yes” to being a “Moment Maker,” the possibilities are endless…Life doesn’t have to be boring or the same or ordinary, it can be EXTRAORDINARY. We can take every opportunity to make the best moment with what we have right in front of us, all we have to do is say “yes.”

A recent example in my own life of making the most of every moment: while we were in Guatemala, we had an unexpected two-hour “wait” at a gas station while we waited for the roads to open. We could have chosen to be upset and stressed out because our plans were being ruined; instead, we jumped rope, played games, took pictures, and laughed a lot. It became an awesome day all because we chose to make it awesome.

As my husband and I begin this new adventure of parenting in just a few months, there are so many quotes and lessons from this book that we want to embrace and remember so that we can make the most of each day with our children. I never want to feel trapped or bored while raising my children as a stay-at-home mom, and I never want to be caught up in the comparison game – something Carlos highlights in the book. Within even the first two chapters, I had already taken pictures of several quotes that I didn’t want to forget:

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There’s so much more that I could say, but then you wouldn’t have to read it :) This book is certainly worth your time and I’d encourage you to check it out. We’re only given a few short years to live on this earth – let’s make the most of each and every moment instead of letting life pass us by! Let’s create moments, receive moments, and rescue moments together :)

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: Fearless Hope by Serena B. Miller

Despite the fact that I live less than thirty minutes from a large Amish community (Lancaster County, PA), I had never read any fiction about the Amish people until I was asked to review Fearless Hope by Serena B. Miller. If all of Ms. Miller’s books are as wonderful as this one, it certainly won’t be my last!

From the time I picked up the book to the time I finished it, it was nearly all that I could think about. I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters, the plot and the mysteries within it even when I wasn’t able to read the book. The characters were so well-developed that I felt like I knew them personally and, because of that, I became emotionally attached to them and their adventures and couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen next. There are so many great lessons throughout the book, as well, and it gave me a lot to think about.

Here’s the synopsis from the back of the book:

When Hope Yoder loses her husband, she is left trying to support her two small children—and one on the way—any way she can. She ends up taking a job as a part-time housekeeper to the English man who has bought the farm that once belonged to her family. 

Logan Parker is a bestselling crime fiction writer from New York City who accompanies his fiancée on a trip to Holmes County, Ohio, but the trip takes a strange turn when he sees an Amish farmhouse for sale. Intrigued by a strong sense of familiarity, he enters the house and is overcome with a feeling of deep peace. He’s never been to Ohio before, but something in this house feels right, and he purchases the farm to use as a writer’s retreat. Something about the peacefulness of the house frees him the crippling writer’s block that threatens to ruin his career, and something about the quiet Amish woman who comes to clean his home makes him less and less excited about returning to New York and the woman he is supposed to marry. 

Slowly, Logan and Hope are drawn together, and when they discover that they share a strange past, they must decide how that affects their future. Will Hope overcome her fear of embracing love again?

If you love fiction, you will love this book. This one has it all: mystery, romance, history, loveable characters, and great moral lessons. It will be released on April 8th, so pre-order your copy today!

I received a copy of this book from Howard Books in exchange for my honest review. 


Smart Money Smart Kids



Dave Ramsey and his daughter, Rachel Cruze, have teamed up to write a book that I cannot WAIT to read. As a soon-to-be parent, I want to make sure that our kids grow up knowing how to handle money and how to be responsible with it as adults. This book should be a great resource for that!

I am on the “launch team” for this book and will blog as I read it (soon!). I haven’t been this excited to read a book in a long time!

Click on the picture above to learn more about the book and/or pre-order your copy today!

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