Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wordless Wednesday


Monday, February 21, 2011

Letting Go

Title: Letting Go
Author: Michelle Sutton

Goodreads Blurb:

Sometimes for dreams to come true, you have to let go . . .

Outwardly Diane Simmons appears to have everything a woman could want. A successful attorney, she’s beautiful and talented, and yet she always seems to be attracted to the wrong men. Longing to be loved for who she is, not for what she looks like, she finally realizes the world’s view of love is totally unrealistic and distorted and gives up on romance. She wants to find a better way but has no clue where to look.

Dave Passel can never father a biological child. He loves his foster son deeply, but something goes terribly wrong before the adoption can be finalized. When the State tries to reunite the child with the birth mother he has never known and the new caseworker accuses Dave of sabotaging visits with her, he hires Diane to fight for him in court. He believes in God’s sovereignty, but bad experiences with his late wife make it hard for him to trust Diane as she advocates for his son. If only he didn’t struggle so much with letting go . . .

My Take:

Michelle Sutton has done it again. Every time I pick up a book of hers I know I will meet real people facing problems in ways that normal people would. This book tackled huge issues and didn't shy away from the very real consequences that come from them.

Diane is damaged from abuse as a child. She can't relate to men in a normal way. She doesn't feel loved. Once she realizes how much damage she's been doing to other people's relationships (because she's had affairs with married men without knowing it), part of her doesn't think she deserves happiness even if she could find it. She's isolated in life. She doesn't have friends because she treats women as competition. When her situation comes to a crisis, she has to pick a path and that's when everything starts to unravel.

Despite her problems, Diane has a strength about her that keeps her going. She also is compassionate and has a career dedicated to helping children. She gets a lot of satisfaction from that. I felt my heart break for her more than once. I identified with her yearning to be loved and accepted. I think that's a universal desire. It's a mistake to think that those with money and looks are automatically happy and loved. This book is a great example.

Dave is a great dad who is expecting to adopt the foster child he's been raising for nearly two years. Suddenly a wrench is thrown into the works and both father and son are devastated. Add in a new caseworker that doesn't like him... Things go terribly wrong. Dave is normally patient and relaxed but he reacts as I think anyone in this situation might. He's defensive, tense, suspicious... He doesn't lose control and do anything drastic, but it tears his heart out and ours right with it. I think the only thing that keeps him from falling off the edge is his faith. 

In this middle of this, the two of them find each other. Neither wants it. Both fight it. Diane is seriously scared of it. The pain and heartache they both have gone through just make their relationship together that much sweeter when it comes. 

A side character, Ken, was also well done. He showed all the same realistic elements I love to see in Michelle's characters - especially those that are believers. He was a friend of Diane's that she used to date. He was kind and compassionate, struggled with temptation, but in the end stood strong and was honest about it. The small group Diane visits is not that well developed (mostly because they only played a very small role in the book). Many of them mention pasts, but as for the present, they seemed very sweet and were willing to be a friend to Diane no matter what.

This is a fantastic book and I would suggest you not only to read for yourself, but to share others. :o) 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Monday Musings

Are you familiar with the term "Standing or Memorial Stones? "

 4So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe;
 5and Joshua said to them, "Cross again to the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel.
 6"Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?'
 7then you shall say to them, 'Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off ' So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever." - Joshua 4: 4-7 NASB

Especially during hard times people often need reminding of the good things in their life, the blessings they do have, and what God has done for them. It isn't something new. In the passage I just shared God shows He understands that need by telling the people to set up these stones as reminders of how they just witnessed a miracle that showed God's power and provision for them. We know how many times the people would doubt Him in the Bible. We aren't any stronger than they were.

The picture I shared is of an Iris from the garden I had to leave behind when I moved. Every place I've lived since I became a Christian has had them. They are part of my "standing stones." You see, my grandmother was the one who influenced me her life and death to accept Christ. The Iris was her favorite flower. Every time I see one I think about her and how much her love and her powerful witness has impacted my life, my marriage, my children... and so many other choices I've made. It's a reminder to me of the kind of woman I want to be and the kind of love I want to share with other people. It's also a reminder of the grace and mercy God has for me - because he put her in my life.

For the times when they aren't in bloom, I have a picture on my bedroom wall with the sign "Believe" hanging on top of it. I think we need reminders of the times that are important in our spiritual walk to help us when times are rough and to pass down stories to our children to strengthen their faith and help them to know the stories of how God has worked in their family. It can be a shadowbox with momentos, a photo collage, a single item mounted... or a jar where you record moments on paper and then make a tradition of pulling out one a week and discussing it.

If you do this already I'd love to hear your stories. If not, let me know how you feel about it. Have you tried before? How much can the past offer us~ either in comfort or edification?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Quote It Saturday

"In the end, what affects your life most deeply are things too simple to talk about." -- Nell Blaine

"The happiness of life is made up of little things--a smile, a hug, a moment of shared laughter." - Unknown

Quote It Sat is hosted by Freda @ Freda's Voice.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Gunman's Bride

Title: The Gunman's Bride
Author: Catherine Palmer

From Goodreads:

Bart Kingsley had followed her to New Mexico, ready to lay his love—and his life—on the line. But spirited Laura Rose had made a fresh start for herself. She hadn't left her controlling father in Kansas to let some gun-slinging outlaw ruin her hopes—no matter what scandalous past they shared six years ago. Or how his green eyes beckoned!

Rosie was his light in the darkness—Bart would do anything to win back her trust. But he was a wanted man. Would the past, with its dangerous demands and debts, conspire to destroy their new beginning? Or would his faith in God—and in Rosie—be rewarded?

My Take:

On many levels I could relate to Rosie because she often let her fears and worries get the best of her. I have one of those minds that can imagine a hundred different outcomes - vividly. It's one of the reasons I write. It's a mistake to oversimplify and think she's weak. She did leave her father for a fresh start on her own. She also was so determined to get the teaching job of her dreams that she made a plan and saw it through - step by step. She wasn't honest with her father or herself though.

When Bart shows up, everything gets complicated. Not just her life and plans - but her feelings as well. She wants her safe and secure plan and suddenly everything has gone off the rails.

Bart is... Bart. lol He struggles against his past - both what people did to him and what he has done himself. Part of the time he doesn't believe he deserves any better and part of the time he wants more so badly he would do nearly anything to get it. He only knew one good thing in his life - Rosie. He wants a chance to win her back, whatever that takes.

This couple have a true and passionate love. It was an interesting story to see how they found each other and overcame their obstacles. There were some tense and frustrating moments, but I enjoyed it very much. I also need to mention a lot of research went into this book and I enjoyed meeting the true-life characters that were introduced.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Gift I made for a freelance editor who worked on my manuscript and helped me a lot.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday Musings

I've decided to try a new feature on my blog. On Mondays I will have a post about something I have been thinking about, writing about, something that God has been teaching me... Those kinds of topics. I expect it will be something where there can be a lot of discussion from you as well. I hope you enjoy this new feature and I look forward to your feedback.

Today's topic came from a discussion I had with a military wife I know. She's upset about the number of commercials that feature soldiers. She complained about them because she believes they're using the military as a way to take advantage of the American public and their patriotic feelings as well as their desire to support the men and woman serving overseas.

It's true that many companies that have nothing to do with the military are using images of soldiers and their families to sell products.

There are other companies, like USAA, which caters only to military families (retired and veterans as well) and their dependents. They've also been running commercials lately with images of soldiers (I don't think I noticed many commercials by them before - I'll have to look it up). I'm guessing the greater frequency has to do with the economy and restrictions put on banks in general. Maybe there just is greater competition and they need to get their name out there more.

Is there a difference between the two companies? Do you think she's right to be offended at either? Should we be using images of our soldiers to sell products like this? I'd really like to hear your view, but whatever it is, I'm sad the military community would think all they're worth to a company is an advantage to gain profit. I stand behind them and pray for their safety. Thank you to all those who serve and their families for their sacrifice for freedom.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Quote It Saturday

"A good goal is like a strenuous exercise -- it makes you stretch." -- Mary Kay Ash

Quote it Saturday is hosted by Freda @ Freda's Voice

Friday, February 11, 2011

Love on Assignment

Title: Love on Assignment
Author: Cara Lynn James

Goodreads Blurb:

While Charlotte is focusing on uncovering sordid information on columnist Daniel Wilmot, her heart leads her into uncharted territory.During the summer of 1900 Charlotte Hale, a native Newporter and secretary for the Rhode Island Reporter, accepts an undercover assignment as temporary governess to Daniel Wilmont's children in order to secretly gather evidence against him. As he helps her rediscover God, Charlotte learns that Daniel is an honorable man.They unexpectedly fall in love despite their different backgrounds and social positions. Charlotte soon realizes she must defend Daniel against the forces set against him-a willful student with a romantic crush and the newspaper editor determined to destroy his reputation.

My Take:

This is the second book in the series and only the second book I've read by this author, but I know it won't be my last. I think I liked the first one a little bit more but they are both great stories and I can't wait to read the third in this series.

Charlotte is working as a secretary but wants to be a journalist. She supports her family and they can't earn enough for medical expenses or the damage to the roof. She feels enormous pressure to provide for them. So when her boss gives her the opportunity to go undercover as a chance to prove her worth as a journalist, more than just her ambition is on the line. I loved that she was a career woman with intelligence but also cared so much for family and had a strong sense of right and wrong.

The deeper she gets involved, the less comfortable she feels. Her boss seems willing to destroy Daniel by any means - even dishonest - and Daniel seems innocent of all the things she's supposed to find evidence of. If she doesn't comply she's afraid of losing her job. If she does...

Daniel asked Charlotte if she was a Christian and she told him she was but lots of little things are adding up to say she might not be. He promised himself not to get involved with anyone after what happened with his first wife but there is just something about Charlotte that draws him...  He's the kind of strong, righteous, hero who is willing to stand up for what he believes in no matter what. He's also truly willing to believe the best in people. If anything, he's almost too perfect.

I thought perhaps a bit more time could have been spent in Daniel's perspective to answer some questions and give some more depth. There were some loose ends that never seemed explained - like what was so special about the things in the attic. There was a touching secondary romance for his mother as well. 

I'm looking forward to book three, and if you like Christian Historical Fiction, I hope you'll consider this series. :o)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor

Title: Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor
Author: Stephanie Barron

Goodreads Blurb:

For everyone who loves Jane Austen...a marvelously entertaining new series that turns the incomparable author into an extraordinary sleuth!
On a visit to the estate of her friend, the young and beautiful Isobel Payne, Countess of Scargrave, Jane bears witness to a tragedy. Isobel's husband—a gentleman of mature years—is felled by a mysterious and agonizing ailment. The Earl's death seems a cruel blow of fate for the newly married Isobel. Yet the bereaved widow soon finds that it's only the beginning of her she receives a sinister missive accusing her and the Earl's nephew of adultery—and murder. Desperately afraid that the letter will expose her to the worst sort of scandal, Isobel begs Jane for help. And Jane finds herself embroiled in a perilous investigation that will soon have her following a trail of clues that leads all the way to Newgate Prison and the House of Lords—a trail that may well place Jane's own person in the gravest jeopardy.

My Take:

I'd never heard of these books until I decided to try the challenge this year and I am so glad I did. The premise is that the author is acting as an editor of a journal which Jane Austen used to relate several times where her wit and connections allowed her to take part as a sort of amateur detective and help find out the truth in complicated and mysterious situations where crimes had been committed. I thought it sounded a little far-fetched considering the roles of women during the times, but the author pulls it off in a very believable fashion. Not only that, but the tone and writing have a rhythm and certain phrases that make you feel the similarity to Austen's writing.

The story itself is very interesting and the mystery is good enough that you begin to wonder whether Jane will succeed in solving it. It's fun to see her discover how many wrong conclusions people (including herself) have come to along the way by having only part of the information.

The only drawback was that Jane was certainly the star of the show and the other characters didn't seem as fully developed. They may have had some fun quirks or you may have disliked them, but in general they seemed more like a chorus line that stood in the background for Jane. Much of that may be because we really don't spend much time with them. The book is designed as her journal entry - so it is Jane's voice and her perspective we see events through.

I LOVED this book and can't wait to read the rest in the series. If you like Jane Austen and/or mysteries, this series would probably be a great one for you to try.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Beneath The Night Tree

Title: Beneath the Night Tree
Author: Nicole Baart

Goodreads Blurb:

Do I have a child? Julia DeSmit knew she would face the question eventually, but she didn’t expect it now. At twenty-four, she is finally content with the way her life has unfolded. A single mother to her son and young brother, she works at the local grocery store while chipping away at a two-year degree. All her free time is spent with her unorthodox family—her boys, her grandmother, and her boyfriend of five years. It’s not perfect, but Julia is happier than ever.
So when she receives the cryptic e-mail from her son’s father, Julia’s world is turned upside down. She hasn’t heard from Parker since he left her in a college parking lot nearly six years ago. But one look at her son—the spitting image of his father—is enough to convince her that, for better or worse, Parker is a part of their story. Faced with this new reality and an unexpected tragedy, Julia begins a tightrope walk between what was and what is, what she hopes for and what will be.

My Take:

The first word that comes to mind when I think of this book is beautiful. The author's writing is almost poetic. She uses words in a unique way. 

She also tells the story of a broken family - in more ways than one. She shows you all the little pieces and how sharp and painful the edges are - how they rub up against the characters and cut them just when all seemed to be peaceful and "safe" again. For a while they've been in the business of ignoring those broken pieces. Like a bunch of broken glass, whenever someone is cut, then all those pieces get swept under the rug with the hope they won't slip out and cut anyone again.

None of them truly believe that's the best way to deal with it, they just don't want the pain of trying to gather all of them up and face the probability of getting cut by more than one piece at a time. They are all just holding it together and fear that if anything changes - it won't work anymore. Change comes for them whether they like it or not. 

This book had romance in it but it was more a powerful story about life and how the choices we make shape us and our families. It was about forgiveness, grace, choosing to live without fear and not settling for what is expected and safe because we think we aren't worth anything more. It's also about faith but in a subtle way and without being the least bit preachy. 

I enjoyed it very much and need to thank Tyndale for providing my copy in return for my unbiased review.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Gauis Petreius Ruso 1 - 3

Divorced and down on his luck, Gaius Petreius Ruso has made the rash decision to seek his fortune in an inclement outpost of the Roman Empire, namely Britannia. In a moment of weakness, after a straight thirtysix-hour shift at the army hospital, he succumbs to compassion and rescues an injured slave girl, Tilla, from the hands of her abusive owner. Now he has a new problem: a slave who won't talk and can't cook, and drags trouble in her wake. Before he knows it, Ruso is caught in the middle of an investigation into the deaths of prostitutes working out of the local bar. Now Ruso must summon all his forensic knowledge to find a killer who may be after him next. With a gift for comic timing and historical detail, Ruth Downie has conjured an ancient world as raucous and real as our own.

 It is spring in the year of 118, and Hadrian has been Emperor of Rome for less than a year. After getting involved with the murders of local prostitutes in the town of Deva, Doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso needs to get out of town, so has volunteered for a posting with the Army on the volatile border where the Roman-controlled half of Britannia meets the independent tribes of the North. Not only is he going to the hinterlands of the hinterlands, but it his slave Tilla's homeland and she has some scores to settle there. Soon they find that Tilla's tribespeople are being encouraged to rebel against Roman control by a mysterious leader known as the Stag Man, and her former lover is implicated in the grisly murder of a soldier. Ruso, unwillingly involved in the investigation of the murder, is appalled to find that Tilla is still spending time with the lover. Worse, he is honour bound to try to prove the man innocent - and the Army wrong - by finding another suspect. Soon both Ruso's and Tilla's lives are in jeopardy, as is the future of their burgeoning romantic relationship. 

 At long last, Gaius Petreius Ruso and his companion, Tilla, are headed home-to Gaul. Having received a note consisting only of the words "COME HOME!" Ruso has (reluctantly, of course) pulled up stakes and brought Tilla to meet his family. But the reception there is not what Ruso has hoped for: no one will admit to sending for him, and his brother Lucius is hoping he'll leave. With Tilla getting icy greetings from his relatives, Lucius' brother-in-law mysteriously drowned at sea, and the whole Ruso family being sued for bankruptcy, it's hard to imagine an unhappier reunion. That is, until Severus, the plaintiff in the bankruptcy suit, winds up dead, and the real trouble begins... 

My Take:

I'm combining these three because I'm horribly behind in reviews and because they're all part of a series so I thought perhaps I could cheat like that. :o)

I'm awaiting the fourth novel, which I won in a contest, and so I thought I would read the first one and see about "catching up" on the series before I read the one I'd won. I'm so glad I did. These are really well written historical novels that manage to capture the essence of the time period without sacrificing the character of any of the people involved. 

These are secular novels, but they are fairly clean. I have to say fairly because that time period included things that many people would find objectionable. Gladiator fights, brothels, false gods... Still all these things are treated in a way that shows the negative aspects of the things that are truly evil and the humanity of the things and people who did things we would disagree with today. 

The entire series centers around a Roman doctor (medicus) and the slave he rescues from death. She hates the Romans and wants to die. He is in dire financial straits and shouldn't have wasted the money on the girl. She is expressive and emotional, he is reserved. Together they form an unlikely bond of friendship and loyalty that helps carry them through many potentially dangerous situations. 

These books were funny, challenging, engaging and even thought provoking. One of the things that made them stand out was the fact that they weren't over sanitized. It wasn't a case always of who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. You could see both sides and that there were good people on both sides of the argument. I can't wait for book four and if you haven't read these yet, you may want to consider adding them to your list.