Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year 2014

I've been thinking about the new year a lot the past few days. I'm so not ready for it, ya know? Not that I have much choice in the matter, because it's coming whether I'm ready or not. But I have tried, I just don't like change and a new year means changes, the least of which is remembering to write "2015" on stuff. Many people are excited; new opportunities, new things going on, maybe something you've been eagerly anticipating will happen in 2015. That's awesome. But for me, uncertainty is what I see ahead, and I'll admit, I'm scared. Then, I read this blog post . . . well, it's actually a repost of a blog post from October, I think. Anyway, it reminded me of where I should go, not only when I face uncertainty in life, but every single day. The throne of God. So, if you're like me and maybe a little wary of what this new year may bring, I hope this encourages you, as it did me. Happy New Year and may God guide and bless you in the days to come!

Kristy Cambron - I'm a Christian Who Doesn't Pray

Monday, December 29, 2014

My Review: Return to Exile

Return to Exile is the second book in Lynne Gentry's Carthage Chronicles and in case you didn't read my review of the first book, be forewarned that I am a huge fan of her books now.  I've actually become one of those really annoying people that follows (stalks) their favorite authors.  So I'm sorry in advance, but I have to gush a little bit. ;)
How far would you go to save the ones you love?

Six years ago, Impossible circumstances forced Dr. Lisbeth Hastings to leave behind the love of her life, not just in another country, but in another time. Her work as a top-notch epidemiologist and parenting her little girl helps alleviate the pain, but at night when her exhausted head hits the pillow, images of her beloved Cyprian haunt her sleep.

Cyprian Thascius returns from political exile a broken man. He’s lost his faith, the love of his life, and his purpose. He attempts to move on, to face the danger that is looming over Carthage, but when Cyprian’s true love suddenly reappears, his heart becomes as imperiled as the fledgling church he seeks to save.

Have the years that kept Lisbeth and Cyprian apart created too wide a chasm to bridge? In the midst of a new epidemic and rising oppression, will their love be the most costly fatality? Filled with gripping action and raw emotion, this spellbinding adventure of star-crossed lovers captivates with every turn of the page in this electric continuation of The Carthage Chronicles.

About the Author:
Lynne Gentry has written for numerous publications. She is a professional acting coach, theater director, and playwright. Lynne is an inspirational speaker and dramatic performer who loves spending time with her family and medical therapy dog.
(Description [italics mine] from Amazon, and author bio and cover photo from Christian Book.  No infringement intended.)

My Review: 5 stars
Another 5 star book from Lynne Gentry!
Return to Exile is the second book in Lynne Gentry’s The Carthage Chronicles. It continues the story of Lisbeth Hastings and Cyprian Thascius, six years after the first book left off. I loved the first book and had very high expectations for this one. I can happily say that it met them all!

I was quickly drawn into the story and couldn’t put it down! As I have come to expect, Lynne did an excellent job with the historical and medical details, as well as the descriptions. She brings Carthage and third century Rome to life so vividly that I had trouble pulling myself away from it. I could picture it so clearly and often felt as though I was actually there. One of the things I love/hate most about this book and Lynne’s writing is the realism. If you’re looking for a feel good, happily ever after story, then I don’t recommend this book. It will challenge you, change the way you view things, and leave you thinking about it for days. It may also leave you wanting to pitch it against a wall after you read the last page. That’s pretty much a given with her books. She is one of the few authors that can evoke such an emotional reaction from me.

I loved seeing how much Lisbeth and Cyprian have changed and grown since the last book. The changes weren’t always positive, but that’s true in life too, and I enjoyed following them through the pages of another book. Lisbeth Hastings has spent the last six years trying to move on with her life, while also feeling chained to something she can’t explain and doesn’t understand. She is still stubborn and very strong willed, maybe even more so now that she has a child to care for. She is also a bit impulsive, though she tends over thinks things after the fact. She definitely isn’t the stereotypical heroine and would not be mistaken for sweet or overly gentle, except with her daughter. She has built walls to protect herself from hurt and they have caused her to be a bit harsh in her view of the world and sometimes of others.

Cyprian Thascius has returned from exile to find he isn’t the man he was before. His heart has hardened and his faith is on shaky ground. He is still strong and stubborn, which he needs to keep up with Lisbeth. The changes in him are more obvious than in Lisbeth. He used to be kind and gentle, but is now more apathetic than anything. When pushed to reach out to the Church he once loved, he questions if he’s the right man for the job. Counted a coward by many, he feels he has something to prove to Carthage, but more importantly, to himself.

Their story started out a little slowly, as we catch up on the time between books, but it quickly picked up speed and kept me captivated until the end. I was a little surprised with how much I still hated Aspasius; I couldn’t even begin to feel sorry for him. But as the story proceeds, I found myself growing and learning along with Lisbeth and Cyprian, as they learn what it means to love their enemies and live as Jesus did.

If you’re expecting a romance when you pick up this book, you may be a bit disappointed. While there is a touch of romantic tension here and there, it isn’t a central part of the story. There are so many other things going on that I believe it would have detracted from the story had Lynne incorporated more. Lisbeth and Cyprian find themselves remembering their past love for each other, but having not seen one another in years, and believing their love lost through time, they spend a decent amount of the book trying to rebuild the relationship they thought lost.

I found myself very challenged with the spiritual side of the story. I’ve always heard that the Bible is a living book, always relevant throughout the years and that fact is clearly shown in this story. I was able to empathize with both Cyprian and Lisbeth’s struggles. Cyprian has lost his faith, his heart has hardened, and he can’t hear God. He tells Ruth at one point that he can hear nothing but the wind. In the meantime, Lisbeth has found faith, but still struggles with control and trying to make everything right. There is a quote that caught my attention, “All this time, she’d believed the reason for her travels into this harsh world a simple one: she was meant to rewrite history. But now she knew she’d been dropped into the middle of these struggles so the past could rewrite her.” - Lisbeth Hastings, page 343     There are many other quote-worthy moments, but that one snagged my attention and would not let go. It shows so clearly the change that occurs for Lisbeth and illustrates one of the main themes - even though we may not know God’s will or understand why, He always has a perfect plan.

I do caution anyone who is sensitive to violence or medical descriptions, this may not be the book for you. While I loved how the Lynne’s writing drew me in, this book is set in third century Rome during a plague and religious persecution. There are mentions of executions, though not in detail, and detailed medical procedures.

I very much enjoyed the many twists and turns throughout the book that left me stunned and trying to guess what might happen next. Lynne does a great job of building the suspense and giving the reader just enough information to have a general idea what would come next, without actually giving anything away. I also loved how each character had a very unique voice and stood apart from the rest when it changed to their point of view. I quickly knew who was speaking, before it said their name. I was sorry to say goodbye to the characters, though I know I will see many of them again in the next book. They become like family and I don’t want the books to end.

I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a suspenseful story that will challenge you and leave you begging the author for the next one.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for my honest review, which I have given. I was not required to write a positive review and have not been compensated for it in any way. All opinions expressed are my own.

*Quotation used with permission from the author. All rights reserved.

Thank you so much if you managed to make it this far!  I know this review is super long and I apologize.  I just had so many things I wanted to say, apparently!  If all of my gushing hasn't put you off and you'd like to check out the book, maybe consider purchasing a copy, here are some links to get you started.


Christian Book

Barnes & Noble

Thank you again for stopping by and taking the time to read my review!  I hope you have a lovely week!


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sunday Devotional: Your Heart

At the end of the day
I wanna hear people say
That my heart looks like Your heart
My heart looks like Your heart.
When the world looks at me
I pray all they see
Is my heart looks like Your heart
My Heart looks like Your heart.”

Your Heart by Chris Tomlin
This song is from The Story CD and is actually sung from the perspective of David (you can listen to it here). I’ve been thinking a lot about him the past few days (no idea why). He is known as a “man after God’s own heart,” but what does that mean? 1 Samuel 13:14 says (speaking to King Saul), “But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” From this verse, it sounds as though it means someone who follows God’s leading, but when we think of David, that isn’t generally the first thing that comes to mind. We see his failures first and David messed up pretty badly from our perspective. He committed adultery and then killed a man to cover it up. That doesn’t sound like someone after God’s heart. But yet, God still called him that - why? Hadn’t David hit rock bottom there? Most would think he would be the last person God would say that of, after all, look at where he fell to. But God didn’t see that. God saw his almost immediate remorse when Nathan called him on it. He saw David’s sorrow, his mourning. Psalm 51 illustrates pretty eloquently where David was spiritually after that. He didn’t run from God, but rather chased after Him, repenting, asking forgiveness, then praising Him. I think that is what made him a “man after God’s own heart.” Because when he fell, when he failed, he didn’t run from God, but rather to Him. 
God, please make us people after Your heart. Guide us, teach us Your ways. Help us to follow the path You have for us without straying. And when we do fail, I pray that we would learn from Your servant David and would run to You and not away. Amen.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

My Review: Sanctuary Buried

Eight years ago Francesca Canetti testified against her father—the head of a mafia crime family. Now she’s Frannie Peters, running a bakery in the witness protection town of Sanctuary. Her former-starlet mom and her younger sister mooch off all her hard work, her best employee has terminal cancer, the town’s mafia crew insists she’s one of them and her love life is so non-existent it isn’t even funny. Dare she try and unearth a better life? Matthias Hernandez is a ranch hand with his own bundle of secrets. His feelings for Frannie have lain undiscovered for a long time, until he realizes his family won’t fix itself. It’s time to dig up the future he’s always dreamed of. When Frannie stumbles on a killer at work, the culprit turns his attention to her — and with the attention comes deadly consequences. Can they figure out the identity of the “dark angel” before it’s too late for all of them?

About the Author:
A British ex-pat who grew up an hour outside of London, Lisa attended Calvary Chapel Bible College where she met her husband. He's from California, but nobody's perfect. It wasn't until her Bible College graduation that she figured out she was a writer (someone told her).
Since then she's taken the Apprentice and Journeyman writing courses with the Christian Writers Guild, and discovered a penchant for high-stakes stories of mayhem and disaster where you can find made-for-each-other love that always ends in happily ever after.

Lisa can be found in Idaho wearing either flip-flops or cowgirl boots, depending on the season. She leads worship with her husband at their local church. Together they have two children--a sparkly Little Princess and a Mini Daddy--and there's only one bunny rabbit now (sad face).
(Description, author bio, and cover photo copied from the author's website No infringement intended.)
My Review: 4.5 stars
Even better than the first!
Sanctuary Buried is the second book in Lisa Phillips’ WITSEC Town series. It picks up shortly after Sanctuary Lost left off. I had really enjoyed the first book and had high expectations for this one. I can happily say that it surpassed them all!
Lisa once again does an excellent job of bringing her fictional town and all of the characters who live there to life. I loved the descriptions and getting to “visit” old friends again. There are a few new players in this book and I really enjoyed getting to meet them, as well. I loved how realistic everything is and that I could easily imagine being there with them. I also really appreciated the attention to detail and all of the technical research Lisa obviously put into this story.
Though this is book two in the series, you don’t have to read them in order. Lisa includes enough background and extra details that you won’t feel lost. There may be a couple things that don’t make complete sense at first, but the books don’t tie tightly together.
Francine “Frannie” Peters witnessed a murder at the age of sixteen and agrees to testify and enters witness protection, much to the dismay of her spoiled mother and younger sister. I honestly loved Frannie from the start. She is sweet and kind, but also strong and stubborn. She has a lot of questions about God and all that she was taught as a child. She also struggles with her feeling toward her mother and sister, who do their best to make her miserable. She tries very hard to love them and be kind to them, while also removing herself from their abuse. I found her to be very realistic and was sad to see her story end. I hope she makes an appearance in a future story.
Matthias Hernandez is the hero of the story and I loved him too! He is strong, kind, loving, but he also carries a weight on his shoulders. I loved how protective he is of Frannie and how he works to take care of her. He truly wants what is best for her, even though he is concerned it isn’t him. I enjoyed watching him grow in faith as he spent more time with Godly influences and learned who He is. He is the kind of character that you cheer for when he wins, and mourn for when he fails. He pulled on my heart from the beginning, and I have to confess to being just a little envious of Frannie.
Their romance was very sweet and I enjoyed following them through their story. I loved how they started out as barely acquaintances, but slowly became friends, then more. While their relationship wasn’t the driving force behind the story, it still flowed throughout and was never dropped, or lost, which I really appreciated. 
I absolutely loved the mystery and suspense! It kept me on the edge of my seat and I couldn’t even guess what would happen next. I was also very surprised by who the villain was, which I thought was great! The story took so many twists and turns, that I honestly still have no idea how Lisa managed to keep them all straight, but she did! Most of it was tied up in the end, with a couple threads to tie into the next book, which I am anxiously anticipating. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
My only “complaint” is that I had really been hoping something awful would happen to Mimi and Izabella, but unfortunately for me, it didn’t. So I was slightly disappointed there, but I’ve been consoled with the knowledge they will get their just rewards later on.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a great mystery with a lot of suspense!
I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the author for my honest review, which I have given. I was not required to write a positive review and have not been compensated for it in any way. All opinions expressed are my own.
Thank you for stopping by and reading my review!  I hope you enjoyed it!
If you're interested in checking it out, or maybe purchasing a copy, here are a couple links to get you started!
I hope you have a lovely day and a merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sunday Devotion: Pray

"I failed to find the time, but You’ve been calling out
I let the days go as if I could live without."
Pray by Sanctus Real
(You can listen to the whole song here.)

I all too often find myself making excuses for why I can’t read my Bible or pray today. I always have something else I could be doing. Then, one day I look around and realize that I’m so far away from Him. The worst part for me, is that I didn’t even notice. I was so busy, caught up in my own little world, that I didn’t see how far away I was until I desperately needed something. God should be more than the person I go to when all else fails. So much more.
I love the next line of the song:
“But it’s gotta be here and now. I won’t be pulled away.
‘Cause it’s just You and I, so let the world around us fade.”
  That’s what I need. I need the world around me to just disappear. My to-do list, my schedule, everything I could or feel I should be doing - they all need to just take a hike. Quiet time with God is so important, but I fail almost every day to carve out time for it. I don’t take time to just stop and listen. Instead, I say a quick prayer while driving to work, or while I’m scurrying around trying to get everything done. That’s not enough. If I did that to any other relationship, I would have no friends and my family may have given up on me, too. So why do I do that to the most important relationship in my life? My goal this week is to take time every single day, regardless of what I have going on, and just pray and be silent before Him.
Father, please forgive me for neglecting You. Thank You that You never give up on me, no matter how far I may wander. Please help me to ignore all of the things pulling at me whenever I try to spend time with You and to just rest in Your presence. Amen.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Sunday Devotion: Psalm 77:1

"I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me."
Psalm 77:1 (NIV)
This verse caught my attention in my daily Bible reading a few days ago and I keep going back to read it again.  Have you ever "cried out to God"?  Fallen on your knees before Him and finally admitted you can't do it by yourself?  There's something beautiful in those moments of broken surrender, in remembering who He is and what He can do.  The walls you've built up against the world, against Him, have no choice but to fall.  When we finally stop trying so hard to be strong and keep it together, that's when He is most able to work in our lives, in our hearts.  Being vulnerable is not something we enjoy, in fact, we tend to avoid it at all costs.  Even the definition makes it sound like a weakness, but it's not.  Not with God. The freedom found in letting go and just resting in who God is, is so worth the discomfort we experience at baring our souls.  Because He loves, He protects, He would never leave one of His children, He would never abuse their trust.  There is safety in His arms.  It's only in releasing our burdens and giving them to God that we can truly rest and find peace in His presence. 
Father God, please teach us to surrender to You.  Please give us open hands and hearts. Give us rest in You when we are facing one of life's storms and remind us that You always hear us when we cry out to You.

Friday, December 5, 2014

My Review: A Most Inconvenient Marriage

May I brag for a moment on Bethany House's cover designers?  Because I love this cover!  It's beautiful!  And I love how the theme continues on the back (which you obviously can't see unless you buy your own copy).  The horse shoe intrigued me when I first picked it up and I was wondering how it would tie in.  I'm slow, so I figured it out about half way through the book. LOL  :)

Abigail Stuart Thought She was Jeremiah Calhoun's Widow.
But Jeremiah Calhoun Is Very Handsome, Very Alive, and Very Perplexed.
Most Inconvenient Indeed.

With few options of her own, nurse Abigail Stuart agrees to marry her patient, a gravely wounded soldier calling himself Jeremiah Calhoun. They arrange a quick ceremony before he dies, giving Abigail the rights to his Ozark farm and giving Jeremiah the peace of knowing someone will care for his ailing sister after he's gone--a practical solution for both of them.

After the war, Abigail fulfills her side of the bargain--until the real Jeremiah Calhoun shows up, injured but definitely alive, and wastes no time in challenging Abigail's story. Abigail is flummoxed. After months of claiming to be his widow, how can she explain that she's never seen this Jeremiah Calhoun before? How can she convince him that she isn't trying to steal his farm? And will she find a way to stay, even though this practical arrangement has turned into a most inconvenient marriage?

About the Author:
Regina Jennings is a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University with a degree in English and a history minor. In addition to her own books, she contributed a novella to the novella collection A Match Made in Texas. Regina has worked at The Mustang News and First Baptist Church of Mustang, along with time at the Oklahoma National Stockyards and various livestock shows. She now lives outside Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with her husband and four children and can be found online at
(Description, cover photo, and about the author copied from Christian Book.  No infringement intended.)

My Review: 4.5 stars
A new favorite author!
A Most Inconvenient Marriage is the first book in Regina Jennings’ new Ozark Mountain Romance series. This is the first book I’ve read by her, not counting her novella in A Match Made in Texas. I’d heard great things about her books and was very excited to read this one. I am happy to say that I loved it!
Ms. Jennings does an excellent job with the descriptions and details. She brought the story to life and it seemed as though I was there with the characters. I was drawn into the story from the very first page and didn’t want to put it down! I also loved the setting being just after the Civil War, which is an era that is somewhat overlooked, especially in the “fringe” states that were just fitting to keep their homes and land. I found the history behind it fascinating and hope the upcoming books are set in a similar area. 
Abigail Stuart is a great heroine and I loved her almost immediately! I found her very relatable and realistic. Abigail has spent the past few years feeling alone in the world and unwanted, so when offered the opportunity for a forever home, a place to belong, she takes it. I was a little afraid that her convenient marriage would seem too farfetched, but it didn’t. It was actually quite sweet and touching. The man she marries asks for her hand so that he could be certain his loved ones would be cared for. I loved getting to know Abigail. She is strong, determined, and loves with all her heart. Even though she has been dealt a difficult hand, she does her best to make the most of it and she continues to trust in the Lord. I loved her faith, even when doubts attempted to kill her dreams.
Jeremiah Calhoun is an interesting hero. He isn’t someone you just instantly love, which I think is part of why I did care for him. He is stubborn, harsh, determined, and feels he must prove himself. He is also quite controlling, an aftereffect of all he faced in the war, plus the issues from his injuries. I actually found myself softening toward him, despite all of his faults. He invoked a surprising compassion in me and I just wanted someone to reach out to him. I really enjoyed getting to know him and find out who he is behind the hard exterior he presented in the beginning.
I really enjoyed Jeremiah and Abigail’s relationship. They start out as little more than enemies, then slowly become friends as they are forced to work together. They are both very stubborn and often butt heads over decisions concerning the farm or the people they love. They also sharpen one another and Abigail definitely keeps Jeremiah on his toes, and vice versa. The romantic tension between them was very realistic, and while it may bother some, I appreciated that Regina portrayed them as struggling with keeping their thoughts pure. It made them that much more relatable. 
The spiritual aspect was great, as well. Both Abigail and Jeremiah struggled with feeling forsaken by God and both have a lot of questions. I appreciate how Regina handles this rather difficult subject with finesse, not placating anyone, but instead answering the questions they had, or showing them learning to accept it. I found it to be very realistic and definitely relevant to my life.
The only negative comment I have is that the ending seemed a bit abrupt. I would have enjoyed it stretching over a couple more pages, though that may have caused to become tedious, so I can understand why Regina ended it as she did.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and romance!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishing for my honest review, which I have given. I was not required to write a positive review and have not been compensated for it in any way. All opinions expressed are my own.

Thank you so much for stopping by!  I hope you enjoyed my review!  In case you're interested in learning more about the book, or perhaps purchasing your own copy, here are some links to get you started.  Have a lovely day!


Christian Book

Barnes & Noble  

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My writing: What If?

Fear is overwhelming me. It drowns out Your still small voice until the mountain in front of me is all I can see. It looms over me, casting my heart in shadows.
Your light seems unable to penetrate the darkness engulfing me. Tears fill my eyes, then escape and slide down my face, a silent testament to the distance between us. I know I’m the one who moved, but God, I don’t know how to get back to You. The divide appears too great for me to ever be able to cross it, the issues separating us too large to surmount. I have so many questions: my sins haunt me; my fears smother every hope. My heart has hardened . . . I’m not the same person I was. I don’t know how to go back or if I even want to. It seems impossible. But, I can’t seem to move on either.
Do I trust You, or walk away? Walking away is like losing piece of myself, but trusting You again seems like jumping off a cliff and hoping the ground isn’t too far down. Hoping I won’t shatter upon impact. I fear my faith isn’t strong enough to take that chance.
But, what if You’ll catch me when I jump?
What if the distance isn’t as great as it seems?
What if all I have to do is reach out to You and You’ll be there?
What if my questions and their answers aren’t as important as I think?
What if I’m just making excuses because I’m afraid?
What if faith isn’t blind trust, but rather stepping forward with my eyes wide open, confident in who You are? And
What if surrendering to You isn’t the weakness I’ve been led to believe, but rather a true measure of strength?
What if . . . ?

I read this for my church last Sunday and thought I would share it with you.  I hope you enjoyed it and that it has encouraged you in some way.  Please know that you are never the only one with questions - if nothing else, I will undoubtedly always be asking something.