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.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

From This Moment

Talented and determined illustrator Stella West suddenly leaves her glittering London life and career when she learns of her beloved sister's death in Boston.  Convinced of foul play, Stella quickly makes enemies in Boston's elite circles with her brash attitude and seemingly baseless accusations.  That is, until she finds an ally in Romulus White.  

Successful magazine owner, ladies' man, and pillar of Boston society, Romulus offers to help Stella with her quest in an attempt to convince her to join the staff of his beloved Scientific World.  Both Stella and Romulus feel an immediate attraction and camaraderie, but each also has priorities that seem to prevent any sort of relationship.  When Stella's questions put her in physical danger and begin to threaten Romulus's business, will their troubles draw them together, or push them apart forever?  

In From This Moment, Elizabeth Camden takes her readers on a page-turning adventure through 1890s Boston.  Rich in historical details from the worlds of publishing and engineering, Camden's latest work is truly a delight.  

As usual, her characters are complex, believable, and unique.  Along with gifted story-telling, Camden always manages to create multi-layered characters who act in real and unpredictable ways.  She expertly tackles issues of faith, forgiveness, and self-examination naturally, and without overt preaching.  

While Stella and Romulus are both well-developed, this reader still isn't sure if they are also likable. Romulus-- with his fashion obsession, ridiculous name, inability to commit, and pomposity-- is often difficult to accept as a romantic lead.  Similarly, Stella's arrogance and lack of tact are less than endearing.  The continuing story of Clyde and Evelyn Brixton from Camden's novella Summer of Dreams, however, is much more compelling, and beautifully concluded.  While perhaps not the best of Camden's work thus far, From This Moment is definitely worth the time.  

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