Category: book review

Letters to Jacob: Grieving the Loss of a Child

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“If you have lost a child, you know you’re weathering the largest storm life can bring you. I hope that my words of loss, tears, punches, smiles, friendships, and renewed happiness can give you a sense of not being along on this journey.”

About Letters to Jacob: Grieving the Loss of a Child

“If you have lost a child, you know you’re weathering the largest storm life can bring you. I hope that my words of loss, tears, punches, smiles, friendships, and renewed happiness can give you a sense of not being along on this journey.”

Maria Hopfgarten’s son Jacob was born on January 31, 2006. He was the most perfect baby boy she had ever seen. But Jacob had devastating health issues, culminating in a diagnosis of mitochondrial disease, a fatal condition.

In the ten short years of Jacob’s life, Maria found strength in blogging about Jacob’s life. Her raw, honest posts from the year after Jacob’s passing have been gathered into this book along with Maria’s tips for parents coping with their own grief after losing a child.

My Thoughts

I am an incredibly sensitive and emotional person, and while I couldn’t put this book down – my boys found me two mornings in a row crying as I was reading this very powerful book.

I love working with children – they have such an innocence and beautiful way of seeing the world. I worked in Family Medicine for ten years and working with children during this time was a blessing to me, hearing that first heart beat, or watching a child grow at their well child visits, holding their hand when they were scared during stitches or listening to their stories of how they broke their arm. It felt a privilege to be a part of their live for that small moment in time and that they trusted you with these feelings. So often, we can get so caught up in ‘life’ that we forget what a special gift life actually is. And how quickly things can change and be taken away from us.

While I cannot comment on this book from a grieving parent viewpoint, as a parent I can tell you how this book made me feel. I don’t think any parent is ready for a diagnosis that will change their child’s life and their own life as they know it. We take for granted good health and the dreams that we have for our children. Grief is so overwhelming and powerful, we all experience grief in different ways but it is also one of the hardest things to talk about.

Maria shares in her story how wonderful Jacob was – his sense of humour, his relationships with his sister and peers, his time spent at school, his trip to Disney all in the context of his health conditions that ultimately led to his passing. I loved how she shared these intimate details that I am sure were difficult to share but so important, too often we see the patient as a patient and not for the incredible, strong person that they are. It was special reading the beautiful stories of Jacob, his sister, family and the impact he had on those around him in his ten years.

From the very beginning of the story, Maria shared the importance of living and cherishing each moment. I find I am very guilty of not always being present, especially in these last two years dealing with COVID and my own mental health. It is something that personally touched me, the importance of slowing down and living in each and every moment. While Maria may have had to live in each moment due to how quickly things could change for Jacob, this is so important for all to take a step back and use as a guide. I appreciated the personal guidance and tips that Maria shared at the end of each entry for parents as they struggle to cope with their grief and the things that helped her and her family. Maria did not encourage a one size fits all approach, instead she offered several solutions that aided her and offered suggestions on what others could do.

This is an incredibly touching and powerful story of love, grief and how one family has coped with the passing of a very special young man. While a great support book for grieving parents, I think this would be a great book for parents to read as well.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Rating: 5/5

About the Author

Maria Hopfgarten began her blog Moments with Jacob in 2009, writing about Jacob’s life with mitochondrial disease. She had followers around the globe. Maria continued to write blog posts to Jacob after he passed in 2016 to make sense of the loss of her son. Jacob was 10 years old. She has now turned part of the blog into the book “Letters to Jacob,” sharing her raw, honest first-hand experience on grieving the loss of a child.

Maria is the President of the non-profit Miracles for Mito and has been supporting families living with mitochondrial disease for over a decade. She has also been an active Parent Partner at Children’s Hospital Colorado and has been a Parent voice for many chronically ill children. Maria also sits on the Patient Safety Committee of the Board at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Originally from Sweden and with a degree in Journalism from Stockholm University, Maria lives with her husband Joakim, daughter Sarah, and rescue dog Max in Colorado. Her favorite thing to do is to share a good cup of coffee or glass of wine with a friend. Maria loves the outdoor and is always up for a bike ride or hike.

You can connect with her on her website, Facebook and Instagram.

The Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of Letters to Jacob: Grieving the Loss of a Child here.

Disclosure: I received a digital copy of this book in order to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed are my own.

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The Unofficial Hocus Pocus Cookbook

The Unofficial Hocus Pocus Cookbook has over sixty recipes inspired by everyone’s favourite witches – the Sanderson sisters!

About The Unofficial Hocus Pocus Cookbook

Since its debut in 1993, the movie Hocus Pocus has achieved cult-classic fame, with both children and adults as a loyal fanbase. Fans fall in love with the delightful, demonic and diva-esque Sanderson Sisters and the sleepy New England town they torment. Now you can conjure up your own spooky treats and bewitching drinks to celebrate Halloween, whether you’re attending a surprise rave in town, or just spending “a quiet evening at home.”

The Unofficial Hocus Pocus Cookbook is filled with over 60 recipes for fare inspired by everyone’s favorite witches and their spells, potions, and schemes. It is the ultimate must-have for fans of all ages—but don’t worry, no children were harmed in the test of these recipes. Inside you’ll find frightfully delicious recipes for:

  • Burning Rain of Death Punch
  • William’s Wormy Grave Tombstone Cake
  • Dead Man’s Toes Sausage Appetizers
  • Baked Witch Casserole
  • “Way to Go, Virgin” mocktails
  • And much more!

Our Thoughts

Hocus Pocus was one of my favourite Halloween movies growing up – I could watch that movie over and over again. And while this book is not associated or authorized by the Walt Disney Company, it does bring back many fond memories for me. But to think my favourite movie came out twenty eight years ago after reading the introduction? How can that possibly be?!

The cookbook is divided into several categories including: Life-Giving Fall Favourites, Recipes for Salem Townsfolk, From the Witches Spellbook, Bewitching Brews and Beverages, Way to Go Virgin Drinks and Odds and Ends. In her introduction, Bridget explains how the recipes were inspired by Winifred’s spellbook, fan favourite moments and lines from the movie (one of the recipes was even inspired from the movie dialogue – can you figure it out?).

I loved the fun and delicious recipes in this book – there is something for everyone, young to old (which is what I love about the movie itself – it is perfect for all age groups). The names bring out the best of this spooky holiday season (bones of 100 chickens anyone?) and added to the magical fun of the recipes. The recipes were easy to follow, for the most part you will have most of the ingredients at home, which makes it that much easier to prepare and create. My youngest wanted to participate in meal preparation because it was fun which is a huge win for us and isn’t that what cooking together as a family should be, fun? He has already put together our Halloween night menu based on recipes from this book that he really wants to try.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

About the Author

Bridget Thoreson is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her other books include XOXO: A Cocktail Book and consulting for Are You My Wine? Clearly, Bridget is very interested in drinking, eating, and pop culture.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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The Beginning

Susie Mast’s Amish life in Lancaster County has been shaped by events beyond her control, from the deaths of close family to remaining a friend to the love of her life.

About The Beginning

“I wish there was something I could do,” Cousin Verena said, her voice cracking.

“But what?” Susie whispered, wiping her eyes. “The boy I’ve always loved thinks of me as his sister . . . and always has.”

Susie Mast’s Amish life in Lancaster County has been shaped by events beyond her control, with the tragic deaths of her Dat and close-in-age brother casting long shadows. Now twenty-two, Susie remains unmarried despite her longtime affection for friend Obie Yoder. 

Unfortunately, her concerns are soon multiplied due to her mother’s worsening health and her younger sister’s urgent desire for answers about her adoption. Once again, Susie faces the possibility of loss. Will long-held family secrets and missed opportunities dim Susie’s hopes for the future? Or is what seems like the end only the beginning?

My Thoughts

Susie is a beautiful person inside and outside – she has been dealt with very difficult life events including the death of her Father and her close brother. While hurting, she consistently puts her faith in God, and continues to live a good life, caring for others around her. She is just a genuinely good person, who cares about the welfare of others around her and is constantly caring for others, especially her Mother.

She has been in love with a young man who is her best friend for what feels like forever but both are just too shy to say how they feel. Susie doesn’t feel that he returns her feelings and wants him to be happy, as he is her best friend. As her Mother’s health continues to decline, Susie is faced with the possibilities of further loss – her family, her home and her even her future. She has some very important decisions to make but it feels almost impossible to know even where to start. She seems to have a few ‘guardian angels’ looking out for her and helping guide her future, without her ever realizing.

I loved this simple, yet beautiful story. Susie is a wonderful, kind, caring young woman who deserves so much. I also grew to cherish her sister, Britta, and loved the story that has started to evolve with her. Susie is a selfless person, who deserves so much but she is not the type to put herself first. She needs those in her life to put her first (even if this isn’t what she feels they are doing) in order for her to recognize the feelings in her heart and where she wants her life to go. The Beginning is a beautiful story of healing, forgiveness and finding the start of our stories right back at where we first started our journey.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Rating: 4.5/5

About the Author

Beverly Lewis, born in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, has more than 17 million books in print. Her stories have been published in 12 languages and have regularly appeared on numerous bestseller lists, including the New York Times and USA Today. Beverly and her husband, David, live in Colorado, where they enjoy hiking, biking, making music, and spending time with their family. Visit www.beverlylewis.com to learn more.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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The Unofficial Hogwarts Cookbook For Kids

Create magical recipes in the kitchen with the whole family using recipes from The Unofficial Hogwarts Cookbook for Kids.

About The Unofficial Hogwarts Cookbook for Kids

Calling all Harry Potter fans! It’s time to whip up something spellbinding in the kitchen.

With 50 easy-to-follow recipes, you and your kids will learn to cook all of the best wizarding world favorites. From breakfast all the way to dessert, this book makes any meal or snack extra special, with recipes like: 

  • Pumpkin Pasties
  • Cauldron Cakes
  • Muggle-Style Pizza 
  • Chocolate Frogs
  • Great Hall Sandwiches 
  • And many more!

Perfect for young fans of Harry Potter, The Unofficial Hogwarts Cookbook for Kids will have aspiring witches and wizards brewing potions, baking stellar treats, and cooking creative dishes in no time. With easy step-by-step instructions and spellbinding full-color photographs, this cookbook is sure to become a kitchen favorite.

Our Thoughts

I am a huge Harry Potter fan and love all things magical. While the cookbook is not associated with or authorized by JK Rowling, her publishers or Warner Brothers, it celebrates all things magical that we have come to love about this series.

I loved how the cookbook incorporates healthy eating while still presenting them in a fun, magical and spellbinding way. It is very important that young wizards look after their health and eat a balanced diet. The cookbook is divided into: breakfast, snacks and small treats, lunch, dinner, dessert and drinks. Alana takes the best of both British and American favourites to bring you fifty recipes that are sure to be a hit even with the most pickiest eaters, there is something for everyone in this book.

Some of my favourites from the book included Bath Buns, Witch Hat Quesadillas, Bubble and Squeak and Fizzy Whizbees. There were also quite a few that you will recognize right off the bat – chicken pot pie, mashed potatoes and gravy, chicken fingers and sheet pan pizza. I loved the variety of recipes – from the easy to a bit more complicated. It allows you to have a bit more freedom in the kitchen especially with the little ones so that they can gain confidence with the first few recipes and are able to build on this foundation. The recipes themselves are easy to follow with very clear instructions that are geared to both young and older cooks. The accompanying photographs of the final products were delicious looking and were actually what we looked at first when we were deciding on what to try making first.

The Unofficial Hogwarts Cookbook for Kids will be a huge hit this Halloween season (and all year round because lets face it, who doesn’t love a little bit of magic at home?!).

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

About the Author

Alana Al-Hatlani is a baker by morning and food writer by night. Her writing has appeared in SaveurEater, the Seattle Times, the Seattle Weekly, and the Independent. She is a cake stand collector, a very competitive bowler, and Great British Bake-Off zealot. She started baking as soon as she could reach the counter on a step stool and hasn’t left the kitchen since. 

Alana holds a BA in journalism from New York University and a pastry degree from the Seattle Culinary Academy. She lives in Seattle, where she can be found baking flaky biscuits and towering layer cakes as a pastry chef. To see more of her baking or writing, visit http://www.alanaalhatlani.com

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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The Lines Between Us

A WWII novel of courage and conviction, based on the true experience of the men who fought fires as conscientious objectors and the women who fought prejudice to serve in the Women’s Army Corps.

About The Lines Between Us

Since the attack on Pearl Harbor, Gordon Hooper and his buddy Jack Armitage have stuck to their values as conscientious objectors. Much to their families’ and country’s chagrin, they volunteer as smokejumpers rather than enlisting, parachuting into and extinguishing raging wildfires in Oregon. But the number of winter blazes they’re called to seems suspiciously high, and when an accident leaves Jack badly injured, Gordon realizes the facts don’t add up.

A member of the Women’s Army Corps, Dorie Armitage has long been ashamed of her brother’s pacifism, but she’s shocked by news of his accident. Determined to find out why he was harmed, she arrives at the national forest under the guise of conducting an army report and finds herself forced to work with Gordon. He believes it’s wrong to lie; she’s willing to do whatever it takes for justice to be done. As they search for clues, Gordon and Dorie must wrestle with their convictions about war and peace and decide what to do with the troubling secrets they discover.

My Thoughts

War can divide people, friends and families. It tests our faith, our beliefs and our understanding of the world and the relationships we have with others. We see this in so many ways in this powerful novel of faith, forgiveness and healing.

What starts out as a potential romance between Dorie and Gordon, goes awry when the pair have very strong and opposite feelings about the war. One supports doing anything and everything they can to stop the war – including fighting while the other opposes everything against war, fighting and promotes peace. Neither can reconcile their feelings, especially when Dorie’s brother follows Gordon in the way of peace. The two friends join the smokejumpers to protect the forestry in Oregon and Dorie goes on to join the Women’s Army Corps. We are witness to both struggles during the war as they each do their own part.

While Dorie refuses to speak to her brother, he is injured quite badly and Dorie comes face to face with their difficult separation and her own beliefs. She is determined to uncover the truth behind what led to the accident but she will need to work with Gordon to do so. Can the two put aside their differences to uncover the truth? Can they find forgiveness and healing?

I loved this story and found myself unable to put it down. My heart broke for Dorie so many times in this story, and by the end I found myself in tears. Like so many of us, she has to deal with the consequences of her decisions and the way she treated her brother. Something like this can have a lasting impact on our mental and physical well being, and Dorie is no different. She is forced to really look at herself – her beliefs and her actions, in order to find healing and peace. Both Dorie and Gordon are faced with making difficult decisions based on their beliefs and how to move forward as they uncover the truth that led to the accident. What I really enjoyed as well is how the novel was based on true experiences – these could have been real people that lived through the same experiences. The ending was powerful and touching and suited the tone of the story. The Lines Between Us will be a novel that you cannot put down.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Rating: 5/5

About the Author

Amy Lynn Green is a publicist by day and a novelist on nights and weekends. History has always been one of her passions, and she loves speaking with book clubs, writing groups, and libraries all around the country. Her debut novel, Things We Didn’t Say, was nominated for a 2021 Minnesota Book Award and received a starred review from both Booklist and Library Journal. Amy and her husband make their home in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Visit www.amygreenbooks.com to learn more.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed are my own.

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