Monday, December 19, 2016

The Illusionist's Apprentice

Illusionist and vaudevillian Wren Lockhart was once the famous Harry Houdini's apprentice, and holds tantalizing secrets about her former mentor.  Months after Houdini's death, Wren finds herself helping the newly formed FBI investigate spiritualist Horace Stapelton, whose recent publicly performed illusion left a man dead.  As the investigation progresses and Wren finds herself in danger, she must decide if she can trust Agent Elliot Matthews with the secrets of her vaudeville act as well as those of her little-known past.  Will  Elliot discover who is trying to discredit Houdini's legacy and silence Wren before her entire world falls apart?  When he finds himself just as drawn to Wren's non-stage persona-- the quiet and caring Jenny Charles-- as he is to the eccentric and bold public performer, will Elliot convince Wren to finally let her guard down?

Kristy Cambron takes her readers on a fascinating tour of the Jazz Age's world of vaudeville in The Illusionist's Apprentice.  With a perfect blend of mystery, suspense, historical detail, complex characters, and compelling romance, Cambron's latest is a true delight.  Wren's struggle to reconcile her two personas with the woman she wishes to be is both believable and intriguing, and Elliot is the perfect combination of responsible lawman and brave rescuer to be an excellent romantic lead.  The plot moves along quickly and includes plenty of action to keep the reader guessing and engaged.  I enjoyed every last page.

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Rescue Me

Hard-working and dependable Deputy Sam Brooks takes his job and various responsibilities seriously.  That's why he's convinced practical and organized Sierra Rose is perfect for him.  Unfortunately, after months of dating, he still can't seem to convince her that they truly belong together.  Sierra's impulsive younger sister Willow, however, has been in love with Sam for years.  While Willow understands Sam better than most people, she wants her sister to be happy and settle down with a good man after a recent heartbreak.  Though Willow tries to push her sister and Sam together, she and Sam manage to find themselves stranded with a group of teenagers in Glacier National Park.  Will their journey to safety bring them closer together, or simply prove that their opposing personalities make them incompatible?  Will Willow prove that she can be a trusted and responsible youth leader, or will the perceptions others have of her break her spirit?  Will Same ever learn to trust others and enjoy life, or will he continue to shoulder everyone else's responsibilities?

In Rescue Me Susan May Warren takes readers back to the splendor of Glacier National Park, and the charming characters of Mercy Falls.  As with Warren's first installment in the series-- Wild Montana Skies-- I couldn't manage to put this novel down.  The rustic setting, the complex characters, and good old-fashioned romance kept me absolutely engaged, and I finished the book in a single evening. While certainly interesting, Warren's character development can be a bit heavy handed: Willow has always felt abandoned, so she has trust issues... Sam blames his irresponsible brother for their father's death, so he takes on too much responsibility... Sierra is still in love with her boss, but somehow can't see it... etc.  Regardless, the novel manages to delve into the compelling issues of trust, forgiveness, and truth while telling an entertaining love story.  I thoroughly enjoyed my lazy evening with this book, and look forward to my next trip to Mercy Falls.

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill

Widow Jane Bell had absolutely nothing to do with the running of her husband's inn in the small village of Ivy Hill.  When her year of mourning has passed, however, she realizes that not only is The Bell suffering financially, but her husband had taken out a large loan before his death that the local bank is demanding be repaid immediately.  In order to save her own livelihood and those of many of the local townspeople, she turns to her prickly mother-in-law for advice.  Can Thora and Jane look past old wounds and misunderstandings to turn The Bell around, or will Jane's innovative changes and inexperience bring around its destruction?

Julie Klassen, with her typical talent for story-telling, takes readers on a charming journey to Wiltshire in The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill.  As the first installment in Klassen's very first series-- Tales from Ivy Hill-- the book takes a while to get interesting.  Klassen spends most of the first third of the novel introducing a whole host of characters, and I couldn't quite figure out who I should care most about.  Unlike most of Klassen's works, this one didn't immediately grab and keep my attention until the very last page, and it honestly took an unusual amount of time for me to feel engaged.  Once I was about half-way through, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the read and am looking forward to any subsequent installments.

The village of Ivy Hill and its residents are charming, lovely, and believable.  As per tradition, Klassen deftly has several of her characters recite quotes from British Regency classics.  This work, though, lacks any of the gothic mystery and suspense that marks many of my favorite Klassen novels.  Even worse, there was a stark lack of swoon-worthy romance in this particular attempt.  Even so, as a devoted Klassen fan I will anxiously await the next opportunity to visit Ivy Hill, and hope that since the setting and characters have been well established, the story itself can progress a bit more quickly next time, and end on a more satisfying note.

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Lady of the Lakes

In 1796, 19-year-old Walter Scott finally feels as though he may be ready to openly court and earn the hand of his childhood sweetheart, Mina.  Despite differences in their social status, Walter never doubts his love, or their eventual future together.  When Mina-- whose parents do not approve of Walter-- meets a dashing man from her own social sphere and quickly accepts his proposal, she crushes Walter's passionate heart.  Convinced he has forever lost the love of his life, Walter escapes to the lake country of England where he meets a woman who could not be any more different than Mina.  Charlotte-- a french orphan who has just accepted her future as a spinster-- finds herself drawn to Walter, but is too practical to expect him to feel for her what he felt for Mina.  Can Walter look beyond his heartache and learn to appreciate a love born of friendship and respect?  Will Charlotte be brave enough to even let him try?

Josi S. Kilpack tells an absolutely enchanting tale based on the true love story of Sir Walter Scott in The Lady of the Lakes.  The historical detail is both accurate and riveting, and Kilpack's storytelling is nothing short of excellent.  Even though I knew that Mina would prove inconstant, I still couldn't help but feel Walter's devastation.  Walter, Mina, and Charlotte are all exceedingly well-developed and believable characters who beg the reader to turn page after page.  I enjoyed every moment of Kilpack's quest to show the difference between one's "first love" and "true love."

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, November 21, 2016

For the Record

Betsy Huckabee longs for a bit of independence and adventure, but living with her uncle's family and working for his small-town newspaper will never get her either.  When a dashing new deputy arrives in Pine Gap to solve a vigilante problem, though, she finds a perfect inspiration for a romantic serial to send the Kansas City papers she has been applying to unsuccessfully for years.  Will the exaggerated stories featuring the mysterious newcomer earn Betsy her freedom, or cause more trouble for everyone involved?  

Fleeing false accusations of impropriety, deputy Joel Puckett leaves his beloved Texas to prove himself by bringing law and order back to Hart County.  Will he be able to sort out the complicated politics and loyalties of Pine Gap's residents in time to earn their respect?  When Betsy's articles bring trouble back to his doorstep, will he be able to forgive yet another woman for jeopardizing his career?  

In For the Record, Regina Jennings picks up the enchanting and entertaining story of Pine Gap, Missouri.  I've absolutely loved Betsy since her appearance in Jenning's first installment of this series, and have long looked forward to hearing her story.  Joel is the perfect combination of brooding bachelor and honorable lawman to be wonderfully swoon worthy match for plucky, free-spirited Betsy.  With her typical subtlety, Jenning's asks tough questions of her readers while simultaneously telling an entertaining story.  Is there true justice outside the law?  Is one's reputation more important than the truth?  I thoroughly enjoyed this trip back to the Ozark Mountains and the compelling adventures that take place there.  

I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Pattern Artist

English housemaid Annie Wood has always worked hard to improve her station in life, and dreams of someday becoming a lady's maid.  When her hopes are dashed by the machinations of others, Annie takes the daring step to make a life of her own in New York City.  From a night spent on the streets and a crowded room above a bakery, to the sales floor at Macy's, the design department of the Butterick Pattern Company, and eventually the fashion houses of Paris, Annie's talent and optimistic attitude take her on an adventure to achieve the American dream.  

Nancy Moser's The Pattern Artist is charmingly packed full of fascinating historical detail. The reader gets a realistic glimpse of life in 1911 New York from a variety of perspectives.  Despite the engaging historical flair, however, most of Moser's characters lacked depth.  I honestly had a difficult time finding many of them believable, or even likable.  Annie is certainly plucky with a good amount of gumption, but also somehow equally insecure and indecisive.  Her constant second-guessing of every single choice presented to her not only grew tiresome, but rendered her love story-- which barely deserves to be called such-- completely unsatisfying.  I can generally overlook some mechanical and developmental issues for a compelling romance, but The Pattern Artist couldn't even credibly manage that.  

I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, November 7, 2016

My Heart Belongs in Fort Bliss, Texas

Fashion artist Priscilla Hutchens has traveled to Texas from Cincinnati to find and adopt the orphaned children of her estranged brother.  When she arrives at Fort Bliss, though, she discovers that the twins aren't as alone as she had thought.  Major Elliot Ryder has cared for the children of his beloved sister since her death, and has no intention of allowing Priscilla to take them back East.  Will either of them be able to put aside their prejudices in order to do what's best for their niece and nephew?  

In My Heart Belongs in Fort Bliss, Texas, Erica Vetch has the potential to tell a romantic tale of sacrifice, forgiveness, and compromise against a western backdrop, but falls short.  From page one, the reader knows that Priscilla and Elliot will mend fences and overcome differences.  I anticipated them meeting in the middle: Elliot would realize that the Army is only a job, not his entire identity, and Priscilla would accept that the difficult Army life is worth embracing for true love.  Instead, Elliot gets exactly what he wants, and Priscilla sacrifices everything.  First of all, Priscilla's qualms about raising children at a remote Army outpost are absolutely valid.  Elliot has not provided them with adequate supervision, care, or education.  I struggled with the fact that Priscilla lets go of these valid objections for no good reason but that she's attracted to Elliot.  Worst of all, Elliot actually remarks that his oath to the Army with "always come first."  Wrong.  Deal Breaker.  Go back to Ohio, Priscilla.  As a military spouse myself who has so far survived 10 deployments, I concede that the life I have chosen requires sacrifice.  I also know, however, that the covenant my husband I made before God absolutely comes before his job.  The Army may need to come before Priscilla's every desire, but any real man would put her legitimate needs above a job.  As a result, I simply could not accept Elliot as a romantic lead worthy of Priscilla's devotion.  

I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Silent Songbird

As a ward of King Richard II, Evangeline leads a privileged, but lonely, life inside the walls of Berkhamsted Castle.  When the king announces her betrothal to Lord Shiveley-- a much older man with a dangerous past-- Evangeline decides to escape from the only home she knows and begin a new life.  Known far and wide for her beautiful singing voice, Evangeline pretends to be mute in order to protect her identity.  On her journey, she comes under the protection of Wesley LeWyse, the young and handsome son of Lord LeWyse.  As Evangeline adjusts to life as a commoner, though, it becomes obvious to Wesley that she must be more than she seems.  Will Wesley be able to forgive Evangeline's deception, and can he keep her safe from Lord Shiveley?  

With her typically masterful style, Melanie Dickerson retells the story of the Little Mermaid in The Silent Songbird.  As usual, Dickerson's creative way of blending medieval history with classic fairy tales makes for an entertaining story.  While Wesley is a compelling and believable romantic lead, Evangeline is a bit too naive for my taste.  I assume her simplicity is meant to be charming, but ends up rather annoying instead.  The story itself is well constructed, but Evangeline's insipidness is a distraction.  Though I often have to struggle through the awkward dialogue in Dickerson's novels, the loveliness and romance of her storytelling always brings me back for more.  The Silent Songbird is no exception.

I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Where Two Hearts Meet

The Red Door Inn's executive chef-- Caden Holt-- only truly feels confident and content in her well-stocked kitchen.  When a journalist comes to stay for the summer, though, Caden's boss asks her to show him the wonders of Prince Edward Island in an attempt to solve the inn's financial troubles.  Reporter Adam Jacobs has come to stay at the Red Door for a forced sabbatical after a particularly rough assignment in the Middle East.  As Caden and Adam's friendship grows, will Caden's insecurities take over when she learns Adam isn't the travel reporter she thought he was?  

Liz Johnson tells a lovely story of self-realization and forgiveness in Where Two Hearts Meet.  The breathtaking backdrop adds a bit of magic to an entertaining-- if not remarkable-- love story.  I personally found Adam's journey more compelling than Caden's.  While I can empathize with her insecurities, I had a difficult time understanding how the entire town seems to enjoy belittling her very existence.  Though it may not be an epic, compelling page-turner, Where Two Hearts Meet does what it intends to: tell a satisfying and entertaining contemporary love story.  

I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, October 17, 2016

This Road We Traveled

When her son convinces the entire extended family to leave their Missouri homes and claim land in the Oregon territory, Tabby Brown must decide if she has the strength and stamina to travel in a covered wagon across the country.  Though her son tries to discourage her, Tabby finances her own wagon with her brother-in-law and sets out on a new and dangerous adventure.  

In This Road We Traveled, Jane Kirkpatrick tells the true story of Tabitha Moffat Brown, often called the "Mother of Oregon."  Kirkpatrick's character development in this latest work of historical fiction is nothing less than masterful.  The strengths and flaws of each character make them absolutely real, and their decisions absolutely believable.  The historical details involved in a cross-country journey in the 1840s were fascinating, and engaging.  Each sub-plot was as engaging as Tabby's, and I found myself unable to stop reading until I knew the fate of the Brown/Pringle party.  As a whole, the book is nearly perfect, but the romantic in my would have enjoyed more developed love stories.  

I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, October 10, 2016

From This Day Forward

Nurse Deborah McCallister has loved her childhood friend Toby Valders for years, but has grown impatient with his inability to commit to any sort of relationship.  When a charming new addition arrives in their small town of Blessing and shows an avid and genuine interest in Deborah, will the competition for her heart finally spur Toby into action?  Amidst the confusion, Deborah decides to attend a month-long course in Chicago and use that time to gain some clarity.  But which suitor will be waiting to claim her heart upon Deborah's return, Toby or Anton?  

While I've long been a fan of Lauraine Snelling and her compelling tales of Norwegian immigrants in the American Midwest, I struggled to truly enjoy From This Day Forward.   While Deborah, Toby, and Anton's love triangle snagged my interest from the start, it only constituted perhaps only one fourth of the entire novel.  

In this series conclusion, it's as if Snelling felt the need to give every single resident of Blessing a storyline of some sort.  Even having read many of the other books in the series, I simply didn't have the mental or emotional energy to care about any of the many tangental plot lines.  I found myself skimming chapter after chapter about construction meetings, hospital policies, and potluck lunches until I came upon any mention of the supposed main characters.  I still have faith in Snelling's beautiful storytelling, but this particular effort was wasted on me.  

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  

Monday, October 3, 2016

Waves of Mercy

As one of the first Dutch settlers of Holland, Michigan, Geesje de Jonge reluctantly sits down to write her memoirs for the town's 50th anniversary.  As she relives the loves, losses, trials, and blessings of her long life, her story resonates with her young neighbor and longtime friend, Derk.  When Derk befriends 23-year-old Anna Nicholson-- a guest at the nearby Hotel Ottowa Resort-- they soon find that all three of their lives are more connected than anyone could have imagined.  

I do not exaggerate in asserting that Lynn Austin's Waves of Mercy is one of the best novels I've read in years.  Austin has a true talent for plumbing the very depths of the human soul.  So often heroines in Christian fiction far too easily choose the right path every time.  Geesje's story, however, is striking in its utter honesty and authenticity.  Her fear in the face of trouble and choosing to follow her own selfish will both lead to heart-wrenching consequences.  But God, as only He can, weaves everything together to achieve His perfect plan.  This story of perseverance, forgiveness, and true love is not to be missed.  My only complaint is that the story ended at all.  

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Courageous Brides Collection

This collection of nine novellas takes readers on an entertaining adventure from Civil War battlefields, to the Wild West... and everywhere in between!  These stories from some of the biggest names in Christian Fiction tell of brave, compassionate women who each learn how to trust God in the midst of trouble.  

Each novella is a decent length, and perfect for a lazy weekend afternoon.  As is a common flaw in short stories, some of the character development is either sloppy, or lacking entirely.  The series is arranged well, and is reminiscent of a relay race: the first few start out strong, followed by the weakest components, then gradually regains the speed necessary to win readers in the end.  

Healing Promise by Johnie Alexander and An Everlasting Promise by Michelle Griep (one of my new favorite authors), don't disappoint with two lovely tales of strong women who learn to look past outward appearances to find true love.  

Love on the Run, by Debby Lee, though, is a bit too predictable-- even for romantic fiction-- and had far too many characters that I just couldn't seem to care much about.  Similarly, Rose Allen McCauley's Hidden Courage starts out well, but ends abruptly, and just a little too perfectly to be believed.

Donita Kathleen Paul's Encumbered Bride, however, renewed my faith in the genre with a story that perfectly blends history, adventure, and romance.  Almost as wonderful was Mountain Echoes, by Jennifer Uhlarik, which tells a beautiful story of overcoming fear and past disappointments to take a chance on true love.

While just a bit silly for my taste, Jennifer Walker's Letters from Lucy is a fun little tale of a sassy would-be journalist on a Wild West adventure.  Finally, Battlefield Bride by Renee Yancey shows readers the importance of learning to forgive oneself, and accept God's gifts when they come.

Despite a few flops, this collection is well worth the time, and quite enjoyable.  I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Wild Montana Skies

After an eventful deployment, Army search and rescue pilot Kacey Fairing decides to spend her summer on leave in her home town of Mercy Falls, Montana.  Hoping to recover from the horrors of war and reconnect with her teenage daughter, Kacey soon finds she isn't the only one to have recently returned home.  

Country singing star Ben King has also come to Mercy Falls to help his father recover from a helicopter accident.  When he discovers that both he and Kacey-- his high school girlfriend and onetime finance-- will have to work together on his father's Peak Rescue team, he must finally face the real reasons he moved to Nashville so many years ago. 

As Kacey and Ben begin to move beyond the disappointments and misunderstandings of the past, will they fine true love, or discover that their lives have diverged too far to come back together?

In Wild Montana Skies, Susan May Warren takes readers on a compelling and emotional adventure.  Not usually a fan of contemporary fiction, the setting of Glacier National Park provided plenty of interesting detail to keep me going.  Each character is well-developed, believable, and relatable.  I especially enjoyed delving into the complicated decisions the cast had made, and the longterm effects that resulted from them.  While the ending is satisfying (though somewhat predictable), Warren strings readers along a bit near the end by creating unrealistic obstacles.  The secondary plot line-- which I assume plays out in the second book of the series-- is also entertaining, and left me ready for the next installment.  

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Captive Heart

After an altercation with her employer, governess Eleanor Morgan finds herself fleeing London on a ship bound for the American colonies.  When her plans to work for a family in Charles Town fall through, she discovers she must marry an intimidating stranger to pay for her passage from England.  Trapper and tracker Samuel Heath knows he needs a mother for his small daughter, but does not feel ready to trust the uptight English woman he brings home.  Will Samuel be able to open his heart after so many past mistakes?  Will Eleanor be able to adjust to the primitive life in the colonies and feel worthy of Samuel's love? 

Michelle Griep takes readers on a riveting adventure through pre-revolutionary America in The Captive Heart.  The historical detail, descriptions of colonial life, and politics of the time are all well written and fascinating.  Reminiscent of The Last of the Mohicans, The Captive Heart's Samuel is every bit as swoon-worthy as Hawkeye.  While the plot line has certainly been told before, Griep's character development and expertise in storytelling make her newest novel a must-read.  

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  

Monday, September 5, 2016

Lady Unrivaled

Lady Ella Myerston is ready to put an end to the danger and intrigue that has plagued her family and friends for the past few years.  Even though everyone has tried to protect her, she knows exactly who has been attacking her loved ones... and why.  Without telling anyone else involved, she determines to take matters into her own hands.  Lord Cayton knows more than he would like about the cursed jewels Ella is researching, and decides to help her against his better judgment.  When the very people threatening Ella's family arrive to stay with Cayton, will he finally be able to set himself free from his past mistakes, redeem himself, and embrace the new life he has worked so hard to create?  Will he be strong enough to help Ella in her quest while also keeping her safe?  

In Lady Unrivaled, Roseanna M. White masterfully concludes her compelling Ladies of the Manor series.  The fascinating lore of the "Tiger Eyes," the intrigues and machinations of Edwardian England's elite, the powerful bonds of family and friendship, and the beautiful stories of forgiveness and redemption come together for a truly riveting and delightful read.  As a devoted fan of The Reluctant Duchess, I do wish Rowena had made an earlier appearance.  And while Brooke Stafford of The Lost Heiress has never been a favorite of mine, she grew on me in this final novel.  Both the mystery of the cursed diamonds and Ella and Cayton's love story are beautifully and satisfyingly concluded.  

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Becoming a Woman of Excellence

Cynthia Heald's Becoming A Woman of Excellence begins with Boaz's words in Ruth 3:11, "All my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence," to delve into a in-depth study of biblical excellence.  Heald starts by addressing why we should strive for excellence, then guides readers through a conversation regarding the cost of such an endeavor.  Part three-- the real substance of the book-- defines and expounds on several important characteristics of excellence.  The study ends with a short chapter exploring the results of a excellently lived life.  Each chapter includes plenty of scripture references, quotes from a diverse group of Christian authors, reflections from "older women," and a memory verse.  

While any woman can complete the study alone-- as I did-- I would definitely recommend doing it in a group setting.  Many questions would have yielded a much deeper experience with the added benefit of discussion.  Additionally, I would encourage readers to power through the first two sections of the book in without quitting.  While it's important to establish why we should pursue excellence, sections one and two can get a bit tedious.  The reader has already chosen to read this book, so we can assume that she grasps its importance.  Section three, which addresses discipline, discretion, gentle and quiet spirits, purity, and wisdom, however, will be powerful, applicable, and convicting to any woman regardless of age or experience.  

The scripture memory verses for each chapter are also well-chosen and edifying.  I've created free printables for each one here.  

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  

Monday, August 8, 2016

Rejoice Always, Pray Without Ceasing & Give Thanks in all Circumstances...

Here's a look back at a CBS devotion from 2015!

If there was a specific verse that could perfectly describe the last week at my house it would be:
Proverbs 19:21: Many are the plans in the mind of a man, 
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will prevail.
You’d think that after 8 years of being and Air Force wife, I’d have learned that lesson by now, but I still find myself making and depending on my own plans.  As most of you know, my husband got home from his latest deployment last October.  And following the current deployment cycle of his squadron, he was supposed to be getting ready to leave again right about now.  Well, several months ago, as the squadron was starting to plan for this next deployment, they decided that he would get to stay home.  I knew deep down that this could change at any moment, but as the departure date got steadily closer and closer, I really started to believe that for once we’d get to be lucky family that gets to skip a deployment.  
But, as some of you have no doubt heard, this wasn’t to be after all.  Last Monday, Hubby got the call that not only would he have to deploy this round, but that he’d need to leave in 9 days.  
After the shock and disappointment of this news wore off, I discovered that underneath it all, I was actually really angry.  Angry about a whole host of things, some of it rational... and some of it not.  
  • I was angry about the timing of this mess.  Hubby wasn’t prepared to deploy, so he’s had to spend most of the last week scrambling to get things together at work instead of spending his last few days at home with us.  Nine days is also an extremely short amount of time to get my own mind wrapped around the idea of this deployment, much less getting a 5-year-old and 3-year-old prepared for Daddy to be gone for 3.5 months.  
  • I was angry at the Air Force as a whole.  I mean, hasn’t my family sacrificed enough?  I felt like 8 deployments in 5 years was excessive, and that we deserved to catch a break.  
  • I was really, really angry at the guy who Hubby is having to replace.  He didn’t get injured, his wife isn’t having a baby, there wasn’t a family emergency… he just didn’t have his act together, so my husband has to pick up the slack.  
  • I was angry at Ryan’s commander for having made this call, and—here’s where we veer toward the irrational—I was angry at him for being the bearer of bad news.  
  • Even more irrational, I found myself losing my temper with my boys because they (for some reason...) kept expecting me to feed and take care of them. When all I wanted to do was sit in a dark room moping and wallowing in self-pity.  
Once I admitted that this anger I was feeling was negatively affecting my attitude, I felt like I needed to re-read a chapter in a book I had read in our church in Florida a few years ago called: Respectable Sins, by Jerry Bridges.  Before reading this book, I never would have said I struggled with anger, but he painted this particular sin in a different light, and as it turns out, it was every bit as convicting reading it this second time as it was the first.  
While the entire book is great, and the chapter on anger was very personally enlightening, here are a few excerpts that were particularly poignant for me this week:
“Some people justify their anger as righteous anger.  They feel they have a right to be angry, given a certain situation.  How, then, can I know if my anger is righteous anger?  First, righteous anger arises from an accurate perception of true evil—that is, as a violation of God’s moral law.  It focuses on God and His will, not on me and my will.  Second, righteous anger is always self-controlled.  It never causes one to lose his temper or retaliate in some vengeful way.”
Later, Bridges quotes 1 Peter 2:18-20 which says, 

“For this is a gracious thing, then, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”  
He then defines the phrase “mindful of God,” as 

“to think of God’s will and God’s glory.  How would God have me respond in this situation?  How can I best glorify God by my response?  Do I believe that this difficult situation or this unjust treatment is under the sovereign control of God and that in His infinite wisdom and goodness He is using these difficult circumstances to conform me more to the likeness of Christ?”
Then in addressing what to do about anger we feel, he writes, 

“To dissolve our sinful emotions, we must believe that God is absolutely sovereign in all the affairs of our lives (both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’) and that all the words and actions of other people that tempt us to anger are somehow included in His wide and good purpose to make us more like Jesus.  We must realize that any given situation that tempts us to anger can drive us either to sinful anger or to Christ and His sanctifying power.”  
After reading this, I realized that I was, in fact, faced with a decision.  Like we studied in Romans 12:2: was I going to conform to this world, or be transformed by renewing my mind?
I decided that “renewing my mind” should start with finding something to praise God for in each of the things that had angered me in the first place, and this exercise didn’t end up being nearly as difficult as I thought it would be!
  • As for the timing, even though we had little time to prepare for this deployment, the news came while my parents happened to be in town.  Not only did they offer extra support and sympathy during a rough few days, but they also watched the boys for a night so that Ryan and I could get away together.
  • In regard to the Air Force, this was a great reminder to thank God for a job that firstly, allows my husband to be a pilot—which is what he always wanted to do—and secondly provides a regular paycheck that is sufficient to allow me to stay home with my children—which is what I always wanted to do.
  • Coming up with a reason to be thankful for Ryan’s commander and the guy he has to replace was probably the most difficult for me.  The reason this man can’t leave with the rest of the squadron this week, is because he hasn’t been able to pass the required check flights to become an aircraft commander, in other words he just isn’t ready yet to be in charge of a plane and a crew on the other side of the world.  Three years ago, 4 men flying the plane Hubby flies crashed just outside the base he is deploying to, and everyone onboard died.  I’m not saying the aircraft commander was ill-prepared or unqualified-- because no one knows what happened that day-- but I do know that sending someone to do a job they aren’t ready for can have disastrous consequences.  So I can praise God for a commander who was willing to make an unpopular decision, and had the courage to put safety over ease or comfort.  
  • Finally, as for my two boys, I can’t even begin to catalogue the joy and comfort they bring to me during deployments.  During the times in my life that can be the loneliest and most isolating, they provide hugs, smiles, and someone to snuggle with on the couch and watch a movie with.  I’m so, very thankful for my boys.  
Just before a deployment, I like to pick a verse, or sometimes a song, to claim while Hubby is gone.  So, after this exercise in thankfulness and purposefully changing my thoughts and attitudes, I’ll leave you with the verse I’ve chosen this time:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Monday, August 1, 2016

A Heart Most Certain

When the Teaville Moral Society sends Lydia King to solicit a charitable donation from the town's wealthiest resident-- Nicholas Lowe-- she sees it as an opportunity to finally impress her beau's political family.  While Nicholas may appear to be a frugal miser to most of the town, Lydia soon discovers that he actually uses a surprising amount of his fortune helping others without bringing attention to himself.  As the unlikely pair works together serving the poorest members of their community, they not only learn more about each other, but uncover some dangerous secrets.  Will their shared passion, tenacity, and respect for one another be enough to overcome society's expectations of them both? 

In A Heart Most Certain, Melissa Jagears brilliantly tells a lovely story while also demanding her readers examine the meaning of true charity.  The love story is particularly refreshing-- as both Lydia and Nicholas must each learn something from the other.  As they each tackle their preconceived notions about sinners inside and outside of their church walls, readers must also search their own hearts and actions.  With plenty of historical detail, a good dose of romance, and just enough adventure, Jagear's first novel in her Teaville Moral Society Series is practically perfect.  This reader simply can't wait for the next installment!  

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  

Monday, July 25, 2016

To Follow Her Heart

When news reaches the Southold settlement that Captain Jeremy Horton's ship has crashed off the coast of Barbados, his devastated family and friends gravely accept the report of his death.  But Patience Terry has waited and prayed for years that Jeremy would eventually return and make her his wife, and can't bring herself to believe that Jeremy has actually died.  In a twist that no one-- except Patience-- expected, a British Naval gunship rescues Jeremy from the ocean and returns him to New England the very day of his memorial service.  

Without a ship to command, Jeremy finally seems ready to move home and settle down with the woman who has waited for him for so long.  Jeremy believes God has spared him for a particular reason, but can't seem to find contentment among the friends and family he has always loved.  Will Jeremy's reluctance to plan their wedding, and the delays he constantly produces finally force Patience to give up on her dreams?  

In To Follow Her Heart, Rebecca DeMarino concludes her Southold Chronicles series based on her own ninth great-grandmother's story.  DeMarino includes truly fascinating historical details and vividly portrays life in the New England of the 1660s.  While intriguing, the novel does not stand well on its own.  The relationships between the large cast of characters are well developed, but difficult to understand without having read the series' previous 2 novels.  

Jeremy's reluctance to actually marry the woman he professes to have loved for years is truly aggravating, and the reader can't help but feel deeply for poor Patience.  Unfortunately, DeMarino never sufficiently explains his reluctance-- at least in this novel-- which makes it difficult to root for Jeremy as a romantic lead.  His status as a dashing and dreamy ship captain just couldn't quite make up for his infuriating inconstancy.  This reader was ready for Patience to kick him to the curb and move on.

That said, the story of Jeremy's brother Barnabas and his wife Mary is beautiful and compelling.  As the subjects of A Place in His Heart, they surely make for a much more satisfying story.  Additionally, perhaps knowing more about Jeremy's history would help explain his otherwise frustrating behavior.  The conclusion, then, is that the Southold Chronicles is most likely only worth reading as a set.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, July 18, 2016

No Way Up

When a rockslide crushes ranch owner Chance Boden's leg, hired hand Heath Kincaid steps in an manages to save his boss's life.  Severely injured and bound for a hospital in Denver, Chance demands that his three grown children read his recently revised will.  The document-- Cole, Justin, and Sadie Boden soon discover-- requires each of them to live and work from their home for an entire year, or forfeit the beloved ranch to a despised cousin.  

Having read the will's contents, Heath suddenly finds himself in the middle of a host of complicated family squabbles... and increasingly drawn to his boss's daughter.  When Heath and the Bodens begin receiving threats and uncover evidence suggesting Chance's injury was no accident, the group must learn to trust one another to save the ranch.  Will these newly forged bonds be enough to overcome the obstacles keeping Sadie and Heath apart, or will they go their separate ways once Sadie's safety is assured? 

In No Way Up, Mary Connealy takes readers on another entertaining adventure.  This first novel of The Cimarron Legacy series picks up years after her Kincaid Bride's series ends and follow's Heath-- the youngest Kincaid brother-- to the New Mexico territory.  While Connealy's characters can often be a bit one dimensional, Heath, Sadie, Justin and Cole definitely have some depth.  But though their character development is interesting, it's also somewhat obvious and heavy-handed.  The struggles of belonging to such a tight-knit family, however, come across as real and believable.  The bits of New Mexican history, along with Connealy's trademark humor, make for a fast-paced, action-packed adventure in the Wild West.  

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  


I just happened to spend a few days camping in Cimarron Canyon, New Mexico earlier this month, so here's a look at the book's setting: 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Honor Redeemed

When her mother dies after a long illness, Prosperity Jones finds herself unable to remain in Nantucket long enough to send word to her fiancĂ© serving as an army engineer.  Despite their separation of two years, Prosperity has never doubted David Latham's love for her, and decides to use her remaining funds to meet him in far away Key West.  

When she arrives in the South, however, Prosperity discovers that the steadfast love of her youth has recently married another woman, and is expecting a child.  With help from some new friends, Prosperity finds work at the local hospital and attempts to rebuild her life.  When she discovers the circumstances surrounding David's hasty marriage, will Prosperity's path to forgiveness and healing lead her to accept the attentions of the kind Dr. Goodenow, or will tragic events force her back into David's life again?  

In Honor Redeemed, Christine Johnson tells a heart-wrenching story of honor, duty, and forgiveness. With a true knack for story-telling and character development, Johnson delves into the pain and bitterness that accompany a broken heart.  Without overly obvious preaching, Johnson shows readers how forgiveness is simultaneously difficult and necessary.  While the story had some pacing issues, and this reader wished Prosperity would make up her mind a little more quickly, Honor Redeemed is still a page-turning delight.  

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

An Elegant Facade

Selfish and socially ambitious Lady Georgina Hawthorne has planned for and practiced every aspect of her upcoming social debut.  Despite a few earlier missteps, Georgina has no reason to doubt she will successfully catch a rich and powerful husband.  Unfortunately, the only man's company she seems to enjoy is the charming and rich-- but title-less-- Colin McCrae.  While fighting his unexplainable attraction to the vain debutante, Colin begins to discover a hidden depth in Georgina's character that he never would have imagined.  Will Colin manage to convince Georgina to set aside her carefully sculpted facade and share her true self with those she loves?  

In the second novel of her Hawthorne House series, Kristi Ann Hunter takes readers on a heart-warming journey in An Elegant Facade.  This second installment actually begins before the conclusion of Hunter's previous work: A Noble Masquerade.  The opportunity to relive important events from differing perspectives and apply them to a new story-line is both interesting and entertaining.  While readers don't necessarily need to read the first book in the series to enjoy the second, they should anyway!  

Hunter's characters and plots are complex, compelling, and thoroughly enjoyable.  This powerful story of vulnerability, trust, and true love is much more believable than A Noble Masquerade, and is definitely Hunter's best thus far.  

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Heart Answers

When her father dies suddenly and her mother remarries, spoiled and manipulative Jessica DuBois finds herself at the primitive Fort Bridger in Wyoming.  Used to getting whatever she wants using her notable beauty and conniving nature, Jessica struggles to fit in with her new family.  After a short time in Fort Bridger, Jessica decides what she wants is itinerant preacher Clay Cole.  Clay wants nothing to do with the selfish newcomer, and continually fights his attraction to her.  When tragedy brings them together, will he learn to look past Jessica's facade and truly understand her?  Will Jessica's new friends and family finally teach her to think of others?  

Colleen Coble's The Heart Answers takes readers back for another interesting look at western life of the 1860s.  Both the characters and plot of this novel are infinitely more believable than those of Coble's To Love a Stranger.  The strengths and weaknesses of both main characters add a compelling level of complexity.  While the plot and characters grow and develop at a natural rate, the conclusion of the story comes rather abruptly.  What seem like insurmountable problems solve themselves almost magically, and readers find themselves suddenly at the last page.  Showing a bit more of Clay and Jessica interacting positively with one another would have made for a much more satisfying end.  

I received a copy of this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Loyal Heart

In a Union prison camp in the middle of Lake Erie, Second Lieutenant Robert Truax and his fellow prisoners make a life-long pact to protect and aid one another as long as they live.  Before his dear friend Phillip Markham dies in captivity, Robert promises to care for Phillip's widow as well.  Years after the Civil War ends, Robert visits Phillip's beloved wife Miranda at her boarding house in Galveston, only to find a woman without any hope.  

After her husband's death, Miranda finds herself a friendless outcast when rumors surface accusing Phillip of having betrayed the Confederacy.  When she begins receiving threatening letters ordering her to leave her home and business, Miranda struggles to find reasons to keep living.  As Robert works to heal Phillip's reputation and Miranda's security, can she truly allow herself to be happy again?  As their relationship deepens, can Robert ever let go of his insecurities and believe himself worthy of Miranda's affections?  

In The Loyal Heart, Shelley Shepard Gray tells a story of hope and redemption in one of the most tumultuous times in American History.  The historical details of prison camps and post-war Texas are rich and interesting.  While Robert is quite swoon-worthy, Miranda's character doesn't give readers much to root for.  Sequences in which she struggles with depression and even suicide have potential, but are essentially solved by her finding a new man.  Gray alludes to God's healing power as well, but  the fact that Miranda's problems all start to disappear when a group of men swoop in doesn't sit well. Just a bit of gumption on her part would have gone a long way.  That said, the bond between the soldiers was compelling, and the conclusion adequately satisfying when Robert gets the happy ending he deserves.  

I received a copy of this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Sea Rose Lane

After a crushing layoff from his prestigious law firm, Eric Nash returns to his childhood home of Hope Harbor to take a short break before hunting down a new partner-track position somewhere else. Instead of peace and quiet, however, he finds himself in a construction site as his father turns his house into a bed and breakfast.  Eric continually finds himself drawn to old friends and hobbies, and also the beautiful, but prickly, architect and construction chief working on his father's house.  

Having escaped a stressful career and disastrous dating experience in Los Angeles, BJ Stevens wants nothing to do with a work-focused, big city lawyer intent on leaving town in a few short weeks.  After spending time working with Eric, though, BJ realizes that some men are trustworthy.  After his predetermined vacation is over, will Eric choose financial security with a stable job, or finally learn to take a chance and follow his heart? 

In Sea Rose Lane, Irene Hannon on a relaxing trip to lovely and peaceful Hope Harbor.  Even without having read Hannon's previous novel set in the idyllic town, readers will have no problem following this stand-alone story.  Both main characters are well-developed, relatable, and likable.  In addition, the various sub-plots and characters are equally compelling.  

In typical romance novel fashion, the story is predictable and without any real surprises.  The end, however, is sufficiently satisfying, and the themes of finding lasting contentment and security are thought-provoking.  

I received a copy of this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Whatever is Lovely

Here's another CBS devotional from a bit ago for your enjoyment!  

As many of you know, my husband returned from a 3-month deployment a few weeks ago.  As much as I would love to make deployments simply disappear forever, I do have to admit that God has always used these tough times to teach me important things about myself, Himself, and my relationship with Him.  

One thing I’ve found to be helpful during the 8 deployments we’ve made it through so far, is to pray before Ryan leaves that God would point me to a specific song, verse, or passage in the Bible to claim as my own and cling to during each deployment.  

This time around the verse I felt drawn to was Philippians 4:7-9, which says, 

“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” 

These verses really appealed to me, because I do often struggle to control my thoughts while Ryan is gone.  As many friends have reminded me, worry is a sin, and this passage gives us a list of positive things to dwell on instead of worrying.  

What I did over the course of the deployment was choose a new concept from this list to purposefully and intentionally think about for a week.  While God showed me so much through this exercise, there’s one thing on this list that I really had to wrestle with and even adjust my thinking on.  

About half-way through the list, Paul and Timothy tell us to think about whatever is lovely.  I don’t know about you, but this adjective sticks out to me as not really fitting in with the others.  There are some pretty deep and complex concepts on this list: truth, honor, justice, purity… and loveliness?  Think about pretty things?  Don’t get me wrong-- I’m a typical girl-- I love pretty things, but to be told by scripture that thinking about beauty was a positive endeavor struck me as wrong at first.  

In all honestly, I really didn’t like that it was on this list at all.  All of negative things the Bible has to say about beauty started popping into my head:

Proverbs 31:30 says: 

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” 

I remember having to memorize this one in junior high, and it’s absolutely true: our relationship with God is what makes us praise-worthy, not anything about our physical appearance.  

I also thought of 1 Peter 3:3-4, which says:

“Do not let our adorning be external—the braiding of hair and putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.”

Again, this is absolutely true: the things we wear on the outside are nothing compared to what God sees on the inside.  

But as I thought, prayed, and read more about the subject of beauty in the Bible, I decided that my initial reaction--that thinking about any type of beauty is a frivolous or even sinful waste of time-- is just as un-biblical as saying outward beauty is the only thing we should think about.  

I eventually came to three conclusions:

God made beautiful things, and reveals Himself through them 

For His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. 
(Romans 1:20)

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. 
(Psalm 19:1)

We, as human beings, were made to appreciate the beautiful things God has created  

In its most basic interpretation, Song of Solomon is essentially an entire book of the Bible dedicated to a bride and bridegroom appreciating and praising the beauty they see in each other.  Admittedly, it gets a little weird... 

Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead.  Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing...
(Song of Solomon 4:1-2)

I have to assume this was a great compliment 3000 years ago.  Or maybe it just sounds nicer in Hebrew?  But the fact remains: we have been created to appreciate physical beauty, and there are 8 solid chapters of scripture that do just that.   

 Finally, as believers, when we recognize and appreciate the lovely things God has made, we are worshiping Him

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?... O Lord, our lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8)

I can attest to the fact that as I made myself intentionally think about and praise God for the lovely things around me, I was continually led to worship.   

Like the Psalmist, when you see a sunrise or a sky full of stars, how can you fail to stand in awe of the One powerful and creative enough to make them?  

Or like Solomon, when I look into the beautiful faces of my husband and children, how can I not praise God for giving them to me?  How can I not marvel when I see my husband's and my features perfectly blended together, then knit inside me to form two precious little boys?

God made beautiful things, He uses them to reveal Himself to us, and for us to appreciate and praise Him in response.  Therefore, if we aren’t thinking about whatever is lovely (along with whatever is true, honorable, just, and pure) we are missing out on a chance to worship God.