Just the thing for a smile: “I Draw On Cats” (review)

I received the silliest, happiest, funniest book to review a few weeks ago.  Do you remember the connect-the-dots books we all drew in when we were kids?  This is the hipper, grown-up version you’ll think is hilarious—whether you’re a cat lover or not!

Summer 2016 279

I Draw On Cats: A Connect-the-Dots Activity Book is a compilation of funny cat photos by A.R. Coffelt.  On their own, these photos would all be quite meme-worthy.  But Coffelt has reimagined them as something more.  Each photo has bright colorful lines drawn on it, cartooning the cat into something else.  But the author then added numbered dots, so that the reader can add his or her own art to the process.


Summer 2016 283So, for example, instead of a cat-worthy meme you end up with a silly (yet charming) photo of a bride kitty on her wedding day.

Summer 2016 282Or a handsome bearded kitty diving into a bowl of milk.

And more!  Readers will have the opportunity to transform everyday kitties into ninja, strollers out on a rainy day, mountain climbers….even reboots of famous artworks!

This 7″ x 7 1/4″ softcover book is 48 pages long; yet each page has a photo on both front and back.  Even more fun, the pages fold out like an accordion; they’re all attached to one another by the fold.  So the book’s very composition adds yet another element of whimsy for the reader’s enjoyment.

Summer 2016 281

I Draw On Cats: A Connect-the-Dots Activity Book is funny and enjoyable, and some of the pictures will really make you giggle.  Who would enjoy this?  Anyone who’s got an artsy bent; your friend who needs a little pick-me-up or a smile; or really anyone who’s looking for some delight in a world of serious or alarming news stories.  My family truly enjoyed this, and we happily recommend it!

Summer 2016 284

You can find I Draw On Cats: A Connect-the-Dots Activity Book at Amazon and probably at your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore.

Enjoy!  –Wren

“I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.”




Heirloom Audio Productions’ Newest: “Beric the Briton,” A Review

Earlier this summer, we received an audio adventure to review from Heirloom Audio Productions; their newest drama, Beric the Briton.  Are you interested in the ancient Romans?  in the Coliseum?  in battles to the death with lions?

Beric Banner

If you can answer “yes” to any of those questions, then this new audio drama might be right up your alley!

What is Heirloom Audio Productions?

Heirloom Audio Productions is engaged in bringing the incredible truths of history to life for today’s audiences in audio format.  To do this, they find engaging stories that tell the facts of real (and sometimes fictional) heroes and heroines.  The novels of “living books” author G.A. Henty have been the perfect vehicle to tell these stories!  These audio dramas are voiced by world-class actors and accompanied by stirring musical scores.  Heirloom Audio has brought audiences the stories of Alfred the Great (The Dragon and the Raven), Robert E. Lee (With Lee in Virginia), Robert the Bruce (In Freedom’s Cause), and Sir Francis Drake (Under Drake’s Flag).  The newest Heirloom Audio adventure features the events of early Britannia, the Roman invasions, and gladiators in Beric the Briton.


Beric 1What is Beric the Briton?

Beric the Briton was originally a novel by G.A. Henty, the 19th-century author of almost 100 well-researched historical fiction books.  Henty selected and studied specific eras and produced vivid and inspiring books about them.  Beric the Briton is the story of Beric, the leader of a tribe of Britannia.  He has spent time in Rome and has learned their ways of warfare, and noted the enormous differences between the ways the Romans and his own island tribes fought, and is determined to teach those winning ways to his people.  However, when war does come between the two groups, Rome (as she often did) emerged as the victor, and Beric is carried off to Rome, which is under the control of Emperor Nero.  The reader (or listener, here!) will experience the fire of Rome, the persecution of Christians, “bread and circuses.”  And Beric will hear of Christus, who couldn’t be more different than the Druids followed by his own tribe.  He’ll have to make a decision; will he follow the ways of his past, or the God-man, Christus?

Heirloom Audio Productions brings Beric the Briton to vivid life with an incredible cast of talented actors, which includes Tom Baker of Doctor Who fame,  Honeysuckle Weeks from Foyle’s War, Brian Blessed (Star Wars), John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings), and more.  This production is recorded on 2 CDs, and the story runs two and a half hours.  The company recommends Beric the Briton for audiences aged 6 to adult.


Beric 2What will you receive in this new set?

When you purchase Beric the Briton, you don’t just receive an audio adventure!  Heirloom Audio Productions has created an enormous collection of extras which are perfect for families, classes, and homeschoolers.  We received the following special bonuses along with the audio CD in physical format:

  • An mp3 set of Beric the Briton
  • Beric the Briton in e-book format
  • The Official Soundtrack of Beric the Briton in mp3 format
  • a printable cast movie poster
  • an inspirational poster with a quote from the story’s character, Julius
  • a Live the Adventure letter
  • a “Behind the Scenes” video documentary with the cast and crew
  • a fantastic Beric the Briton Study Guide which includes not only questions for each chapter, but related Bible studies as well

The Study Guide and the inspirational posters, in particular, were favorites of our family.  The poster is just gorgeous and the quote is truly faith-building.  The Study Guide is so complete that it could form the basis of a unit study on Rome or Britannia, or even an addition to a survey of the Christian church.  Really, all of these bonus products thoroughly enrich the audio experience, and are fascinating learning experiences.  Not to mention wonderful keepsakes!

Beric gift with purchase 1Our impressions:

We took a vacation during the month that we received Beric the Briton and had to drive about 7 1/2 hours going and returning.  So I happily took the CD set with us; on that trip there are some long stretches of nothing but highway.  So I knew that it would come in handy.  We weren’t really familiar with the story before we listened to it, although I had a general idea of what that historical era covered.

There are some incredible and heroic–even inspiring–people who lived during this era, and we met many of them as we listened.  Boadicea, for example; one of the great female warriors who led the Britannic tribe Iceni, is presented here.  There are also Festus and Paulus (do those names sound familiar?).  However, there are also wicked and evil characters like the Emperor Nero (who thinks much more highly of himself than his actions would suggest) or the Romans who attack Boadicea and her daughters (not to mention the tribes of Britannia themselves).  The actual events of this era provide a vivid storyline for Beric and his adventures.  The trials of early Christians are part of the story, especially of Beric’s time in Rome.

And what did we think?  First, that Heirloom Audio has created another incredibly high-quality production from an exciting book.  Second, the audio acting is excellent as always (as one would expect with such an incredible cast!).  Third, it’s a fabulous addition to studies about the Roman Empire, as the listener not only learns about what it was like to live in Rome but what it could have been like to be one of Rome’s conquered peoples.

I do have to admit that our family was a bit squeamish about some of the subject matter.  Have you read a lot about the Druids or their practices?  That in particular is not for the faint of heart, honestly, although Henty’s story deals with that and Boadicea’s and her daughters’ attack very circumspectly.  However, I thought that the geography taught via the story, and the experiences of both the gladiators of Rome and the early Christians were fascinating and great ways to learn about the past.

While we’re always impressed with the Heirloom Audio presentations, we do find that we have to do a lot of turning the audio up and down as we listen.  This has happened in both our home and in the car, so I don’t think it’s an issue with our audio systems.  It does make listening a somewhat distracting experience, when we can’t focus on the story but have to keep adjusting the volume.

However, I really don’t think that you can find anyone out there who is producing anything like Heirloom Audio Productions does.  They select stories that are exciting yet honorable, that teach great character while they teach history.  So for incredible listening experiences that also speak deeply to the heart, mind, and spirit—you won’t have to look any further than Heirloom Audio!


Beric SG 2Where you can find Beric the Briton

You may purchase Beric the Briton from Heirloom Audio Productions .  And while you’re there, check out their other wonderful audio productions!

You can also visit Heirloom Audio Productions and learn more about Beric the Briton at these social media links:

Beric The Briton Facebook Page:  https://www.facebook.com/BericTheBriton

The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty series Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/TheExtraordinaryAdventuresOfGAHenty

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HeirloomAudio
Twitter: https://twitter.com/HeirloomStories
Google+: https://plus.google.com/b/114534826166314080647/114534826166314080647

Enjoy! –Wren

Beric The Briton Heirloom Audio Productions Review
Crew Disclaimer

From Our Archives: A Delicious Soup, perfect for summer

Here’s a delicious recipe from our archives; Finch’s tomato basil soup from Hello Fresh.  Yum!


My first foray into the world of Hello Fresh!

Super easy, quick and delicious! We took the picture of the finished product and ate it standing at the counter,,,it was that good. It came with organic greens for a balsamic salad (but we went straight to the good stuff and didn’t make)!

TB ingredients


  • 2 pkgs organic crushed Tomatoes (28 oz)
  • 1 yellow Onion
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • 1/2 oz fresh Basil
  • 2 oz Sour Cream
  • 4 oz shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1 pkg Vegetable stock concentrate
  • 4 slices nutty Whole Wheat bread
  • 2 tsp Sugar
  • 1 tsp Olive Oil
  • 2 T Butter
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups of water

Take the butter out of the fridge early so it comes to room temp. Mince the Onion. Mince the Garlic. Finely chop the Basil leaves, leaving a few unchopped for the garnish.

Chopped basil

Heat 1 T butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic stirring, for 5-6 minutes until soft and slightly carmelized, salt and pepper.

Onion and butter

Add the crushed toatoes, stock concentrate, sugar and 1 1/2 cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, season with salt & pepper.

Tomato soup

Grilled cheese sandwiches: divide the cheese between the two slices of bread and top with remaining bread. Coat both sides of the sandwiches with butter. Heat a large skillet over low heat, add the sandwiches to the non-stick pan and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side until brown and crispy. Allow to cool and slice into quarters.
Dividing the cheese

Ungrilled cheese

Grill cheesin

Grilled cheese sand

Remove the bisque from the heat, stir in chopped basil and sour cream. We used a hand held immersion blender to smooth out the bisque.

TB cooking

Garnish with basil leaves and a quarter of a sandwich. Dip and enjoy!

Tomato Basil finished

  • 35 minutes
  • vegetarian
  • Feeds 4 people (we froze half)!

This is a link and referral code if you are interested!



Disclosure:  Finch is an affiliate for Hello Fresh.  If you click on the referral code, she will receive a discount…but it will cost you nothing extra.  Thank you!

Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment ~ A BzzAgent Review


Recently, I had a lovely opportunity to try a brand new facial serum…as well as receive coupons and extra samples to share with my friends!  BzzAgent and Paula’s Choice generously provided for me a full-size bottle (30 ml./1 fl. oz.) of Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment free, in exchange for my honest opinion.  I was able to share my coupons and samples with friends here in town, but at the end of this post I’ll also include a code so that you can get discounted products AND free shipping from Paula’s Choice!

What is Paula’s Choice?

Paula’s Choice is a beauty and skin care company located in Seattle, Washington.  Their company philosophy proclaims that they’re based and manufactured in the United States; that none of their products are tested on animals; that their products are designed to be non-irritating; and that all products are backed with a 100% money-back guarantee.  I love all of those things.  For my own experience, I really appreciate that all Paula’s Choice products have no fragrance, no dyes, and nothing to harm the user’s skin.

Paula’s Choice was founded by skincare expert Paula Begoun.  She is committed to educating women on great skincare and wise choices, and she’s appeared on many television shows to do just that.  The Paula’s Choice website not only sells a huge variety of products for beautiful and healthy skin, but lots of information about beauty care.

What is Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment?

Have you ever used a retinol treatment?  This was my first time ever.  All I knew about retinol was the sort-of-similar-sounding Retin-A, which a coworker used (via prescription from her doctor) years ago.  But as far as personal experience….I had none!

Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment is a facial serum that can (unlike Retin-A) be purchased over the counter.  It’s made for all skin types, and these are some results that the user can expect:

  • Improved elasticity and firmness in facial skin
  • Reduction of wrinkles and fine lines
  • Help with uneven-appearing skin

The Paula’s Choice retinol treatment is designed to be worked into a person’s skin care routine slowly and gently.  Users are instructed to try the product every other night (or even less) to start out with.  Then, if there are no adverse reactions, to increase use to every other night; and finally, if all goes well, to use it every night.  The company recommends night use rather than day use, and daytime use of a facial sunscreen of 25 SPF or higher.

My experiences with this retinol treatment

Over the past few years, we’ve seemed to have very full and busy days.  During that time, while I was trying to keep on top of things, I just used the skin care products I’d been using for some time.  But recently I noticed that they weren’t quite doing the job they used to do.  My skin seemed to suddenly (at least to me) look duller.  With more fine lines…and some not-so-fine!

So, I was thrilled to receive the Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment.  I have to admit that I sort of ignored the use directions.  I used it one night, and had no adverse effects whatsoever.  So then I kept using it every night.  (That is sort of in keeping with my personality.  If one thing is good <whether it’s volunteering, or Dr Pepper, etc.>, then lots of those things must be AMAZING!  I’m working on changing this pattern…. 🙂 )

And really, the retinol treatment WAS amazing.  My skin really began to transform.  Some lines and wrinkles which had really begun to annoy me actually started disappearing.  My skin overall began looking better and brighter.


It was also very easy to apply.  I just dispensed a small amount onto my palm and dabbed it over the problem areas I wanted to see looking better.

I only experienced one problem with the treatment…which I freely admit was my own fault!  We went over to my mom’s to help her repot some vegetable plants into some larger containers.  I had on my hat and my sunglasses, but ended up taking the hat off because it was getting in the way.  I did have some sunscreen on…but it was only 15 SPF and I really should have reapplied it.  We worked outside in the sun for about an hour.

Later that evening, I noticed that the skin on my face felt really sensitive.  I skipped the retinol that night, but my face continued to feel a bit tender.  So I continued to skip it.  (Which I really disliked doing, because I was really pleased with my results!)  I finally decided to call Paula’s Choice for more information and tips on using the product.  Their 800 number has an option for beauty consults (and they also have the option for live chats on their website).  I called and spoke to the most helpful young man.  He recommended that I stop using the retinol treatment for one skin cycle (the time for the epidermis layer to slough off), which can be 30-60 days.  Then, he recommended that I use the serum as directed (meaning start slowly, not the way I did it so quickly) so that my skin could gradually get used to it.  And last but not least, to use a strong sunscreen!

I’ll be doing all these things.  But I am so, so happy with Paula’s Choice Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment!  I love its results, the way it feels, and the overall company philosophy of Paula’s Choice.


Now you can get free shipping, and a discount on your own purchases at Paula’s Choice!

Just use the code PRRETINOL16 at Paula’s Choice.  This will provide both free shipping and 20% off your purchase, through July 31, 2016.

And remember, membership at BzzAgent is totally free.  If you like to sample products, provide feedback on them, and share them with your friends, you might love being a BzzAgent!  Just visit BzzAgent to learn more.

Enjoy!  –Wren

**From time to time, finchnwren may receive a free product or service in exchange for our honest opinions expressed in our blog.  We are not required to write a positive or glowing review, nor are we additionally compensated for these reviews.  We share our own opinions, and our family’s opinion, of these products.  We’re disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

JILTED ~ A Review & Giveaway of Varina Denman’s Newest!

I am a Texas girl, born and raised.

I’m also an inveterate lover and pursuer of good story, especially in the fiction realm.  I’d like to say that I never met a book that I didn’t like (but I have); however, Varina Denman’s splendid Mended Hearts series would only ever show up on the “Much-Loved” books list!

Varina Denman Mended Hearts covers

I happened on Varina Denman’s first book in the Mended Hearts series, Jaded, just over a year ago.  I was captivated immediately by Ruthie’s story of life in a small town, after she and her mother were rejected by their own church home.  Denman’s ability to capture the very essence of life and personality of rural Texas locales, and those who peopled them, drew me in as I pored over the pages to discover what would become of Ruthie, the Trapp, Texas know-it-alls, and the young man who’d caught Ruthie’s eye.  As I turned to the last page of Jaded I was already anxious for the next book in the series!  (You can read my review of Jaded here, by the way.)

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long.  The second Mended Hearts book, Justified, brought readers back to Trapp and into the heart and mind of Fawn, Ruthie’s former friend-turned-enemy, as she faced challenges she’d never expected.  Seeing inside a character I’d so thoroughly disliked in Jaded was fascinating; and Denman’s ability to show us that the person others see as they look at us is often not at all what we’re like on the inside.  This viewpoint is paramount here as Fawn, the girl I’d once viewed as a cruel “queen bee,” became a woman I sympathized with and rooted for.

And now, finally….Jilted is here!  (I know.  I buried the lead!)

Jilted Banner 2That’s only because I want you to know the wonderful background for Varina Denman’s third book in the Mended Hearts Series.  While each book is written as a stand-alone, you’ll definitely want to read all of them!  So now that you know a little about Ruthie’s and Fawn’s stories…..

Meet Lynda.

Lynda is a still-pretty-young single mother.  In fact, she’s Ruthie’s mother.  And single?  Yes, sort of.  Ruthie’s father walked out on the two years and years ago.  While each of them desperately hoped he’d come back…he never did.  That desertion, combined with the complete abandonment of Lynda and Ruthie by their church home, really did a number on Lynda.  Depression snared her with its jagged, ugly teeth, and refused to let her go.

Jilted Windmill QuoteBut she beat it anyway.  And though it threatens to come back now and then, Lynda is determined that she won’t give into it.  So when depression rears its ugly head, Lynda drives out to the wind fields on the caprock, parks her car by the side of the road, and breathes.  The enormous wind turbines, each the height of a football field’s length, rotate gently and calm her spirit.

However, she can’t stay out there forever.  Small-town Trapp and all its busybodies await her, as does her waitressing job at the local diner.  And Clyde Felton.  Yes, Lynda has a would-be boyfriend (that is, if she’d give him any encouragement); a quiet and faithful man.  There are only a couple of problems with Clyde.  First, he’s a newly-released convicted felon.  (Although he’s done his time and embraced God completely.)  And second, he’s a man.   Which of course in itself is a good thing.  But Lynda doesn’t feel confident at all about relationships, given her dismal track record with the men in her past.

There’s more ahead for Lynda, however, than an empty and quiet life.  An unexpected discovery captures the town’s attention.  More men than just Clyde begin to vie for Lynda.  And things come to light that will rock Trapp’s inhabitants…indeed, the town’s very foundation.  How is Lynda going to make it through all this?  And is faithful love really waiting for her at the end…or will it be snatched away?

Jilted-Varina-Denman-GodBlowTownWideOpenJilted is a fine and intriguing end to Varina Denman’s incredible Mended Hearts Series.  As I felt about Fawn when I began Justified, I wasn’t too sure I could really love Lynda as I opened Jilted.  But just as with all of Denman’s other books and characters, I was enthralled by Lynda and her story, and I wished her the best even when I wasn’t sure she’d ever get it.

Read Jilted.  In fact, read ALL of the Mended Hearts books.  Even if you’re not a Texan, as I am, you will be mesmerized by the experiences, stories, and hearts of these fascinating women.  And just like I am now, you’ll be anxiously awaiting Varina Denman’s next book!

And now….the giveaway!

Best of all—Varina Denman has provided a copy of Jilted for one of my readers!  Just enter via the Giveaway Tools form below.  Giveaway ends on Friday, July 22, for US entrants only.  Enter today!  (You can also read my lovely interview with Varina here!)

Enjoy!  –Wren


Summer Guest Post ~ Featuring Christy from Unexpected Homeschool

Today, I have a lovely friend for you to meet.  It’s Christy from Unexpected Homeschool!  She is a very special friend, and also the mom of an only child.  She has some wonderful thoughts about homeschooling to share with you; that particularly resonated with me, and that I know you’ll find thought-provoking.  Meet Christy!

Summer Guest Post banner

Encouragement for Homeschooling an Only Child


The question I most often hear about homeschooling isn’t the standard concern over socialization, but instead how we are able to homeschool an only child. Even more intriguing is that most of these questions come from other homeschoolers.

Honestly, it never occurred to me that homeschooling an only child would be different than homeschooling any other child. We have had the raising of our daughter since her birth, and homeschooling feels merely like an extension of the other portions of our life. Yet through the years, I’ve heard from many people interested in homeschooling who are fearful because they have an only child.

Unexp HS 1I want to encourage parents of only children who are interested in homeschooling or already homeschooling that it can be a wonderful experience that requires no more effort than you already make in raising your child. Personally, we have found it to be a fantastic bonding experience on top of all of the educational positives.


Unexp HS 2A little history:

Our daughter has always loved to be around people, yet never felt the need to constantly be surrounded by other children to function. As many other only children, our daughter learned early in her life how to communicate and socialize with a wide range of people from adults to younger children, as well as how to entertain herself.

We did send our daughter to parochial school through mid-elementary age, which she initially loved. However when we noticed her social skills regressing, it was time for a change. After homeschooling for a few years she again interacts equally well with her peers both in a classroom settings and group activities. She still easily communicates with adults and younger children. In fact she adores helping out with the younger children at church. All of this because she is a homeschooled only child.

Unexp HS 3

The question I receive the most is more a matter of how much extra effort is it to successfully homeschool an only child?

My answer: It’s basically the same as homeschooling any other child. We do not make any more of an effort to socialize her than we did when she was in school. We do not seek out social situations for the sake of socializing.  In essence, we have continued to raise her as before, except educating her at home.

Unexp HS 4This is not to say that our high-school age daughter is devoid of social activities. Actually, far from it. She’s part of our church youth group, attends homeschool co-op classes, and participates in a wide array of activities based on her available time. Still, other than the co-op classes, these are all activities she participated in before homeschooling. The co-op classes do have the added benefit of meeting old and new friends, however they also offer enrichment courses we can’t easily complete at home.

Admittedly, there are a few drawbacks to homeschooling an only child. We can’t host a drama production with our family alone, field our own sports team, or comprise a musical band. Although we can still have fun. In the past we’ve held a Roman Day as the culmination of our ancient history study, several all day PI Day studies, family art projects, family science projects, and more.  Plus, we have a lovely homeschool group that provides us access to nearly all the educational and social facets we might otherwise miss.

Homeschooling an only child need not be a point of concern, especially for the parent who feels comfortable raising their only child. Concentrate on enjoying the time with your child and exploring all that homeschooling has to offer.

More on Christy

Isn’t she wonderful?  I love her story!  You’ll have to visit Christy for more  at Unexpected Homeschool.  I know you’ll find her such an encouragement!

Unexp HS Button

Enjoy!  –Wren

Meet Varina Denman! Author of JILTED & the MENDED HEARTS SERIES

I have the enormous pleasure of introducing you all to Varina Denman this week!  She’s the author of the wonderful MENDED HEARTS series, the stories of three women living in small town West Texas and dealing with life, joy, pain and love.  Varina’s newest book (and third in this series), JILTED, has just been published.  On Friday, I’ll be sharing both my thoughts about this book…as well as the opportunity for you to win a copy of JILTED, courtesy of Varina!

Today, Varina has been kind enough to answer some fun questions about herself and her writing career.  You’ll love getting to know her better, just as I have.  Enjoy!

V. Denman Author Int. Banner

So, Varina…your third book, JILTED, has just been published! What’s it like to be
a published author?

It seems like a dream, and I keep waiting to wake up. Or maybe someone will suddenly say, “Oh! You’re Varina Denman? This is a mistake.” But other than that …it feels GREAT.

How did you embark on this writing life?

It’s funny, but I never intended to become a writer. I studied computer science and mathematics in college, but then I took a break to stay home with my kids. During all the late night feedings, I had plenty of time for reading, and I consumed novel after novel. It was then that I began to wonder if I might be able to write, but it was still years before I tried it.

Jilted Windmill QuoteHow did you get “discovered” as an author?

In 2012, I attended a writer’s conference that was hosted by the American Christian Fiction Writers. Since it was my first conference, I was nervous, and much of the weekend was spent seeking out other clueless newbies so we could
boost each other’s spirits. The registration packet included two 15 minute meetings with literary agents. I was TERRIFIED of these appointments, but I made it through them without embarrassing myself too much. Neither of the
agents offered to represent my work, but they gave me pointers and encouragement. After that, I relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the events.

At lunch the next day, I noticed a girl sitting alone at a table, and I sat down next to her and struck up a conversation. We talked about our children, our hometowns, the conference in general, and then I asked, “What do you write?”
You can imagine my shock when she said she was an agent. I stumbled over the rest of our conversation, but at the end of the meal, she asked to see my proposal, and a week later, she called and offered me representation.

I am SO THANKFUL I didn’t know who she was, or I might never have sat down next to her. We’ve had a marvelous relationship since then. During the year following that conference, she encouraged me as I worked on my manuscript, and the next year, my debut novel, Jaded, won the ACFW Genesis Award. My career was off the ground … all because I struck-up a conversation with a girl I didn’t know.

What does a “day in the life” of Varina Denman look like?

Typically, my alarm goes off at 5:00. I start my day with a fruit smoothie and Bible reading, then I jump into my writing. If all goes well, I’ll draft a chapter in the morning, then take a break to exercise. Next I’ll work on blog posts or marketing until lunch. In the afternoons, I help my teenagers with their homeschool assignments (during the school year), and try to do a little housework. After dinner, I read a book or watch a movie. I love a routine, so I’m happiest when I barely deviate from this schedule.

Varina Denman Mended Hearts coversA key element I’ve noticed in your books is that what others see (and conclude) about us is not always true about the persons we really are. I love this, it’s so true! Did this just “happen” as you wrote, or is this a theme you’ve thought on for awhile?

I was such a newbie when I started writing the Mended Hearts series, that it definitely just “happened” as I wrote. But by the time I got to Jilted, I was more aware of the recurring theme, and I began to work with it. Now it’s almost a given
that this theme will at least be brushed on in all my books. In my current work-in-progress it’s a major key point once again.

I like the way that you shift POV from first person, with Lynda, to third person, in Clyde. How did you decide to tell JILTED in this way?

So much of Jilted evolved through the writing of the series. Decisions I made way back with Jaded and Justified trickled down into the pages of Jilted, and that is true about the POV as well. When I first started writing, I didn’t know much about point of view, and I didn’t know I was sort of breaking the rules. I wrote and re-wrote, trying the perspectives differently, but it always sounded better with the heroine in 1st person and the hero in 3rd . I’m continuing that trend with at least one more book.

Varina Denman Jilted Cover 3DJILTED concludes the story arc for three women in the West Texas town of Trapp, in
your Mended Hearts series. What’s next for you as an author?

Right now I’m working on a stand alone novel,also set in Texas. Unlike the Mended Hearts series, which is set in the Lubbock area, the new story will happen a farther north, just on the edge of Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo.

And last but not least…how does it feel to walk into a bookstore and see your books on the shelf?

Amazing! I actually hadn’t done that until last week, and I found all three books side-by- side on the shelf. I wanted to squeal, but I was too embarrassed. 

Varina Denman writes stories about the unique struggles women face. Her award-winning Mended Hearts series, which revolves around church hurt, is a compelling blend of women’s fiction and inspirational romance. A native Texan, Varina lives near Fort Worth with her husband and five
mostly grown children. Connect with Varina on her website or one of the social media hangouts below.

A little about Jilted:

A heartbroken woman desires to move beyond old memories, but will her past give way to hope?

Lynda Turner has struggled with depression since her husband abandoned her and their young daughter fifteen years ago. Yet unexpected hope awakens when a local ex-convict shows interest. As long-hidden secrets resurface, Lynda must fight for her emotional stability and for a life in which the shadow of shame is replaced by the light of love.

Jilted tells of a woman who has lost the joy of living, of a man determined to draw her back toward happiness, and of a town that must—once and for all-leave the past where it belongs. It is a gentle reminder that all things can work together for good.

Be sure to join us again on Friday for more about JILTED, and for your chance to win a copy for your very own in our book giveaway!  And be sure to visit Varina Denman at her social media sites!


Enjoy –Wren

My Most Meaningful Read of the Week: “The Life We Never Expected” ~ review & giveaway!

My most meaningful read of the week was a book I almost didn’t read.


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Historically, I just haven’t been much of a nonfiction reader.  But for some reason, I have read more of them in the past year than I have since I HAD to read them in college.  I’ve been so fortunate to read these, and for many of them, host a giveaway on finchnwren.com for someone else to be blessed with a copy.  These books have encouraged me, strengthened me in my walk with God, shown me things that I hadn’t yet learned on my own.

Andrew and Rachel Wilson’s honest, moving and intelligently written The Life We Never Expected, has been so powerful for me.  The story of their own family, and their journey, as they received regressive autism diagnoses for both their very young children, is the most incredible account of a couple who refused to give up…on loving and believing God when He promised in His Word that He loved them, and that His purposes for them were good.  In finding a way through suffering, in preserving their own marriage, in hanging on to hope when no hope seemed visible, they’ve held on to Him. Here’s a line from their Introduction:

“This is a book about surviving, and thriving, spiritually when something goes terribly wrong.”

How does a person hang onto his or her faith when unexpected, lengthy, and painful suffering is what they encounter on a daily basis?

The Wilsons have asked that question.  And it’s not that they don’t deeply love their children.  It’s just a life they couldn’t have prepared for; one in which every day requires everything from them; where research for social services, therapies, and possibilities for the things which just might help their children consume their days and their nights.  Where children who have acquired certain abilities lose them due to the nature of regressive autism.  Where each day starts at 4:30 a.m. when their son awakens; where their days’ work is all-consuming and requires all that is in them.  As they walked down the paths before them following first their elder son’s diagnosis, and then their daughter’s, they weren’t just desperate for physical assistance or emotional assistance.  They needed on the very deepest level, words that could come alongside them to keep them anchored in God and the hope He has for each of us.  They didn’t find these words, in book form anyway, anywhere.  So they very humbly and transparently, in The Life We Never Expected, share their own experiences, the conclusions they came to, and the truths that sustained their hope in God and their very lives.

Andrew and Rachel Wilson didn’t just write this book for the parents of precious children who have special needs.  In fact, they say they wrote it for three different groups of people:

  • “Parents who have just been thrown a curveball….and need encouragement” (p. 14) to hang on to God;
  • The friends and families of those parents of special needs children
  • Those who are suffering and need to know how to endure…and that God really is at the end of it all, as well as deeply present every step of the way

My thoughts about The Life We Never Expected

I never really expected to read this book.  Yet, the opportunity arose, and I received a free copy to read, and to share my thoughts about it here on finchnwren.com.

WHAT a blessing.  Andrew and Rachel are so thoroughly real, so transparent.  They graciously and openly share their struggles in parenting, with each other, with God, and with people in general who interact with their family.  While I’ve not experienced the challenges they daily live with, I have been in places of suffering and struggle where I wondered where God was in my experiences, how I could find Him, and how I could get past the barren landscape I felt I was living in.  This book has words of life and encouragement (and even humor!) which can, I believe, really point anyone who’s struggling into a place of hope and into the arms of God.

Here are some of the Wilsons’ words which were very special and meaningful to me:

  • “For those of us who are mothers (and fathers), God wants us to esteem the field he’s given us.  It’s not a tiring distraction from the true mission field we should be tilling; these are our people, for us to reach and for us to be trained and transformed as we do….” (p. 39)
  • “I love my kids most not by loving them the most but by first loving God.”  (p. 43)
  • “Of the one hundred million sentences I have read or heard in my life, the one that has probably impacted me the most is from George Muller’s diary: “The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day…was to have my soul happy in the Lord.”” (p. 57)
  • “Why? What is the Father doing?  The answer is obvious, and none of us likes it: we don’t know.” (p. 65)
  • “It isn’t because God doesn’t love us.  It isn’t because God doesn’t care….The Lion has tears in his eyes, and although I will never understand all he is doing, I know that he isn’t doing it because he doesn’t love me.”  (p. 81)

I could keep going and going with recounting to you all the underlined passages in this precious and meaningful book.  But I’m going to save some for you to read.  Just know this; this book is probably THE most helpful book on suffering I have read in at least the past 10 years…and maybe longer.  I have finished reading it; and I’m just beginning to read it again for the second time.

The things that Andrew and Rachel have learned as they’ve parented their beloved children are things that have been hard-won, at quite a personal cost.  But they are things that we need to know; and things that they have been willing to share with us in The Life We Never Expected.

Find a copy.  Get it at Amazon, or wherever you buy your books.  It is worth every single penny you’d pay  for it, and then some!

Or…enter my giveaway!  FlyBy/Propeller Promotions have graciously provided one copy of this astounding book for one of my readers.  Enter below in the Giveaway Tools form.  A winner will be selected on July 16, after the giveaway closes on the 15th.  (If you’ve won a FlyBy giveaway in the last 30 days, you won’t be eligible to win this one.)

Enjoy!  –Wren


Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

Patriotic Penmanship from Laurelwood Books ~ A TOS Review

We’ve been introduced recently to a unique company, Laurelwood Books, which produces and sells some beautiful materials for homeschoolers.  Through the Schoolhouse Review Crew, we received their cursive handwriting program, Patriotic Penmanship, to use and review.  In particular, we used their Patriotic Penmanship High School: Grades 9-12 book.

Patriotic Penmanship banner

What is Laurelwood Books?

Laurelwood Books is a company which provides, as their tagline reads, “homeschooling books, help and advice.”  In their shop, you can find everything from curricula of all sorts (science, math, language arts and more), to excellent books, CDs, DVDs, and other material interesting to the homeschooler!  These range from time-honored classics to newer publications.  (I have to tell you that one of their current specials pictured on their website is a Nancy Drew novel that I owned as a grade schooler, years ago!)  Crew reviewers received one of a great variety of curricula to review, including Latin readers and workbooks, penmanship books, and books for state study.


Patriotic Pen 1Patriotic Penmanship, our review item

Author Mary Ellen Tedrow of Laurelwood Books has created a penmanship curriculum with books for every grade level from 1st grade through 12th.  The series is entitled Patriotic Penmanship, and it’s composed of books featuring noble and inspirational quotes about America, faith, and life for students’ handwriting practice.  The softcover books (which are consumable, for one student’s use) teach manuscript printing in grades 1 and 2.  Grades 3-6 (which also have one book per grade) continue student work in cursive.  The last two books in the series are one book each for Junior High (grades 7-8) and High School (grades 9-12), both continuing cursive work.

We received the Patriotic Penmanship High School: Grades 9-12 book.  It is an 8 1/2″ x 11″ softcover book with a laminated cover.  The inside pages are white (and smooth), and since it’s a consumable cursive handwriting book all the work is done in this.  You will need one book for each child.  (No other materials are required.)  Mary Ellen’s instructions for the parent are short and sweet:  each week, start by reading the entire quote to your child.  Then, assign to him the amount of work that he can capably complete each day.  Her lovely reminder to give grace to your children as they write, allowing them some creativity, is really appreciated in our house!

PatPen 2There are 30 lessons total in the Patriotic Penmanship High School: Grades 9-12 book, plus a couple of pages of alphabet practice at the beginning.  This makes it perfect to use for one year’s work in handwriting/penmanship.  Each week’s lesson begins with a quote; each one is either from a historical figure from America’s (or world) history, a Scripture passage, or from influential Christian men and women.  You’ll find wonderful words which encourage, inspire, and uplift, from sources like:

  • the Declaration of Independence
  • Wernher von Braun
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • and more!

These beautiful words from Scripture, from poetry, and from landmark speeches will be not only excellent for penmanship practice, but for the heart and mind of the student as well.

After you read the quote to the student, he’ll begin the Tracing and Writing Practice.  Each quote has two lines on which handwriting is practiced: first, a line where the words are printed in dotted format, where the student traces over them.  Following that is a blank line where he’ll rewrite the words he just traced.  When he has completed this section, he’ll move on to the Full Quote, designed so that the entire quote is written on the blank lines given.  Then that’s the end of that week’s lesson!


PatPen 3How we used this:

Since we’re working on this during the summer, which is more of a “homeschooling lite” time for us, we didn’t complete 5 days in a row of penmanship work (as directed in the note to teachers), but more of a 3-day schedule.  Otherwise, we basically followed the plan set out by the author.  Jackson, who just completed 8th grade, started with the alphabet practice.  Then, we moved on to other quotes in the book.  He’d generally complete about 3 lines of a quote per lesson, which works out to six lines of handwriting, since the quotes start with tracing and follow that with the freehand writing.

I LOVE the quotes that Mary Ellen has used in this book.  They are truly words that will lift the spirits of anyone who reads them.  I like her encouragement to assign to your children just what they’re capable of completing in a day.  However, it did take us a bit of time to get used to this new format.  Jackson hasn’t done tracing in his handwriting practice in quite awhile, and I think this can overwhelm a student IF you don’t follow Mary Ellen’s recommendation, since at the beginning of each lesson the quotes are first traced, then rewritten on a new line.  I think it just looked like a lot to him at first.  But he did ease into the new format.

When I applied for this review, I wasn’t really sure if I should have asked for the Junior High book or the High School one.  Since my son officially starts 9th grade in the fall, I decided to ask for the High School book.  And the first thing we noticed when we opened the book was that the lines (which are the standard handwriting lines, with a top and bottom unbroken line, and a midpoint dotted line) were really small!  The pages he worked on during middle school were quite a bit larger and had much more space for writing.  However, I do think that this was a change we’d eventually have made in the fall anyway, so it wasn’t a bad thing; just something new for us.

Our recommendations:

I haven’t really seen a lot of handwriting/penmanship books for high school students.  However, I had already planned for Jackson to continue to work on this subject, even if it was solely from using copywork pages.  I really do believe that handwriting practice accomplishes important work in students’ brains.  Plus, even if our culture continues to become more tech-focused and most people communicate electronically, there is still importance and blessing that can be communicated via the handwritten word.  Don’t you still love getting a handwritten note from a friend or family member?

Patriotic Penmanship High School: Grades 9-12 book offers homeschoolers an uplifting and quality way to practice their handwriting as they are being exposed to beautiful words.  Wouldn’t this also be a fantastic adjunct to an American history study?  I can recommend this curriculum for any mother who’s seeking a handwriting program for her high school homeschool students.  It’s a concise and lovely way for students to work on their penmanship!

You can visit Laurelwood Books to purchase Patriotic Penmanship.  You can also click the banner below, to read more about other curricula my fellow Crewmates reviewed!

Enjoy!  –Wren

You can visit Laurelwood Books at these social media spots:

Their website, Laurelwood Books
Or via email, at marylnw7@gmail.com



Latin and Penmanship {Laurelwood Books Review}
Crew Disclaimer


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