Friday, July 29, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - An Elegant Facade by Kristi Ann Hunter

This is Kristi Ann Hunter's second book in the Hawthorne House series. After reading the first, A Noble Masquerade, I eagerly anticipated this release! I had a chance to read it last week and fell in love all over again with Hunter's writing. Here's the blurb and we'll chat on the other side.

Lady Georgina Hawthorne has always known she must marry well. After years of tirelessly planning every detail of her debut season, she is poised to be a smashing success and have her choice of eligible gentlemen. 

With money and powerful business connections but no title, Colin McCrae is invited everywhere but accepted nowhere. He intends to marry someday, but when he does it will not be to a shallow woman like Lady Georgina, whose only concerns appear to be status and appearance.

But beneath her flawless exterior, Georgina's social aspirations stem from a shameful secret she is desperately trying to keep hidden--and that Colin is too close to discovering. Drawn to each other despite their mutual intent to avoid association, is the realization of their dreams worth the sacrifices they'll be forced to make?

While this is a series, these books can easily be read as stand-alone titles. However, because I'd been introduced to Lady Georgina and Colin McCrae in the first book of the series, I was already invested in them before I even opened the book. I love the way Hunter marries serious scenes with lighthearted ones, allowing the reader to see the many sides of her characters.

One small drawback I felt to this book was it began with scenes from The Noble Masquerade only in Lady Georgina and Colin's viewpoints. And while this is completely a new story, at times--for those who read the first book--it seemed we were peeking behind the curtain of The Noble Masquerade rather than truly seeing Georgina and Colin's story. For me things didn't fully pick up pace until we moved from those scenes into completely fresh ones, allowing these characters space to grow and challenge one another in new ways. Though I did like understanding Georgina's motivations and I loved her even more for her flaws, I would have loved for the entire story to be their own.

However, I still couldn't put the book down. Hunter's ability to string words together into settings and scenes is masterful in its ability to pull a reader into her world. Her characters are multifaceted, and their layers slowly peeled back the deeper into the story you read. Both Georgina and Colin grow throughout this story, and never in ways that feel contrived. And while conflict abounds, it's driven from story moments, not created out of author convenience. Oh, and we definitely get our happily-ever-after:)

Hunter is an author I now search for in anticipation of her next release. I happily give An Elegant Facade 4 out of 5 stars and you can purchase it here.

I thank Netgalley and the publisher for my copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, July 25, 2016

How I Feel Doesn't Matter

I studied counseling in school, and it was there I learned the phrase "I feel". It was a tool used to teach people how to interact with others during difficult discussions. Rather than directing a comment at someone else, you begin with "I feel...". This tactic often diffused heated conversations and kept them from becoming attacks on one another. It allowed words to flow and understanding to be found. And that's all great.

However, "I feel" can become a dangerous tool to use. While it's good to let people know how their actions impacted you or were interpreted, "I feel" can be a slippery slope. In fact today I see more people using it to direct decisions they make, and that can lead to some scary places. That's because our decisions should never be based on how we feel, but rather on how God feels.

Friends, every day we face moments that our feelings can overrun. From struggling with the comparison game to remembering our past doesn't define us, we have a tendency to let our emotions grow louder than God's voice. We pick up Facebook or Instagram to tell us we're loved and worthy instead of opening our Bibles. We let the counsel of friends confirm our anger is warranted instead of sitting with God and asking him about forgiveness. Or we simply stew in our thoughts and allow them to become the authority over our minds instead of allowing God's truth to transform them. But if we want to live our lives in the abundance and freedom that Christ offers then we need to drop the "I feel" and take up the "God feels" statement.

Stop allowing your feelings to manipulate the truth in your life. Your feelings will change, but God's truth will always remain.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Run, Don't Sprint

Thanks to my husband I've gotten to be a part of the racing world for the past several years. In fact, I often volunteer at one of the races he helps put on. Let's be clear though, while he's done everything from a 5K to an Ironman, my role caps out at handing out the medals and cheering.

Yet I'm running my own race, and so are you. It's a thought that's been on my mind lately as I scramble to finish a never-ending to-do list, meet my family's needs, prepare for another homeschool year, and attempt to keep up with things I've said "yes" to or simple daily tasks. I've begun to feel as if I'm running at an impossible speed and about to burn out, but God reminded me of these words from Hebrew 12:

...let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...

Emphasis on the word run, not sprint. And that's what slowed this runner enough to mull over all the words there.

See, we can start to sprint, can't we? Racing from one thing to another to another until we're nearly spinning in circles. But if you've ever seen a race, the runners pace themselves. Sometimes they even walk for a bit--especially in longer races--and that's because a body cannot maintain that all out pace for long periods of time.

And when we start to sprint we can miss the markers on the path we're on. Oh, do we need those markers! Without them we can miss our calling, miss those moments God can use us, or even take on so many extra miles that it wears us out.

So pace yourself. Stay on the marked path. Walk sometimes, it's okay. It's a run, not a sprint, to the finish line God has for us and he doesn't want anyone to miss one thing along the way.

Have you found yourself in a crazy sprint lately? What things can you give up so that you can slow down some?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - The Things We Knew by Catherine West

This summer is full of amazing new books. I was incredibly excited to read this one by Cathy West and add it to my bookshelf. Here's a short blurb and we'll chat on the other side!

After her mother’s death twelve years ago, Lynette Carlisle watched her close-knit family unravel. One by one, her four older siblings left their Nantucket home and never returned. All seem to blame their father for their mother’s death, but nobody will talk about that tragic day. And Lynette’s memory only speaks through nightmares.
Then Nicholas Cooper returns to Nantucket, bringing the past with him. Once Lynette’s adolescent crush, Nick knows more about her mother’s death than he lets on. The truth could tear apart his own family—and destroy his fragile friendship with Lynette, the woman he no longer thinks of as a kid sister.
As their father’s failing health and financial concerns bring the Carlisle siblings home, secrets surface that will either restore their shattered relationships or separate the siblings forever. But pulling up anchor on the past propels them into the perfect storm, powerful enough to make them question their faith, their willingness to forgive, and the very truth of all the things they thought they knew.

This was a great introduction to a family I can't wait to read more about. And while West introduces us to several characters, this story centers around Lynette, Nick and the mystery surrounding Lynette's elusive memories. She does a wonderful job of balancing the primary and secondary plots and characters, leaving the reader with a complete story yet small pieces that will pull us back for more. I'm hoping for a sequel!

Lynette and Nick's story is one that--if you read romance--you've seen before. Girl reunited with her first crush. Crush now falls for her. But West finds a way to add her own small twists and intrigue to what could otherwise be an overused plot. This keeps the pages fresh for the reader, pulling you through to the satisfying end. Plus, Nick and Lynette are meant for each other, easily evidenced by their interactions. One of the many things West does well is authentic conflict and dialogue. She writes both dramatic moments and comedic moments, peppering them in so neither is heavy handed. It simply feels like the flow of real life.

And while the characters and their stories were enough to keep me entertained, I also love the setting of this story. I've always wanted to travel out East, so reading about it completely intrigued me. I'm only more determined to get there now! West does an amazing job settling the reader into Nantucket.

I happily give The Things We Knew 5 out of 5 stars and you can purchase it here.

***Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest and fair review. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

My Jelly Donut Life

Ever feel like you’re stuck in the middle? Like the room moves around you, but you don’t have a spot to sit? Like people wave and say hi, but then pair up with other friends? Or perhaps you see where you’re at with your career, and you can never really achieve the next level while others around you are moving up every day. There’s so many reasons we can feel stuck in the middle, not quite at the bottom any more but never quite reaching the top. And it can mess with out minds, and our hearts.

But here’s the thing with our positioning...our spots. God has us spread all over the place so we can reach people all over the place. Each and every spot has its importance and if you ask him, he'll show you. He did with me. See, I confess I have struggled with feeling like I’m stuck in the middle, but God decided to start working with me on it, showing me that he had me right where he wanted me. Not only did he reveal how my heart and eyes changed to see others in the same position, but as I sat complaining about being a “middler” he whispered, “Just like the jelly in a donut, you’re right in the sweet spot.”

No lie. He compared me to a jelly donut.

I so love a God who brings it home to us in such relatable terms—plus he had me giggling. And that’s just it. God loves us that much. He doesn’t see our lives in levels, he sees them in all the sweetness with which he created us. He sees the purpose and the position he created us for. Each of us unique. Each in a spot best situated to reach people for him—if we stop fighting it and let him use us.

So where does God have you? And are you content with it?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - The Ringmaster's Wife by Kristy Cambron

The cover of this book captured me right along with the title. And then I read the blurb! I'm a huge history buff so the thought of taking a sliver of circus history and spinning a story from it completely intrigued me. Knowing it was by a trusted author sold me. Here's a short blurb, and we'll chat on the other side!

In turn-of-the-century America, a young girl dreams of a world that stretches beyond the confines of a quiet life on the family farm. With little more than her wit and a cigar box of treasures, Mable steps away from all she knows, seeking the limitless marvels of the Chicago World’s Fair. There, a chance encounter triggers her destiny—a life with a famed showman by the name of John Ringling.
A quarter of a century later, Lady Rosamund Easling boards a ship to America as a last adventure before her arranged marriage. There, the twenties are roaring, and the rich and famous gather at opulent, Gatsby-esque parties. The Jazz Age has arrived, and with it, the golden era of the American circus, whose queen is none other than the enigmatic Mable Ringling.
When Rosamund’s path crosses with Mable’s and the Ringlings’ glittering world, she makes the life-altering decision to leave behind a comfortable future of estates and propriety, choosing instead the nomadic life of a trick rider in the Ringling Brothers’ circus.
A novel that is at once captivating, deeply poignant, and swirling with exquisite historical details of a bygone world, The Ringmaster’s Wife will escort readers into the center ring, with its bright lights, exotic animals, and a dazzling performance that can only be described as the Greatest Show on Earth!
The book opens with a tiny glimpse of our main character behind the curtain of the Big Top and gives the reader just enough of the moment to plant questions they'll desire answers to. Then the scene suddenly switches to take us back in time for the answers. It's an intriguing start to a book that comes alive in your hand.
Cambron's writing only grows stronger with each story she pens. The richness of the setting allows for a fullness in her descriptions that settles us into a bygone era. It is evident she's done her research and found her niche within the publishing world. This is a writer who loves every aspect of what she does and it enriches the world she creates.
I loved Rosamond and Colin from their first moment on page, a pairing I only became more invested in with each turn. Rosamond is a strong character who suits this time period well. And Mable was a treat to get to know. The fact that she actually lived inspired me to look her up and learn more about her. The license Cambron takes with the little known about Mable's life is not only creative, but respectful of the legacy Mable left. Not an easy task, and one Cambron makes appear easy.
This book is sure to delight readers with its fresh setting and fascinating characters. I happily give The Ringmaster's Wife 5 out of 5 stars and you can purchase it here.

Thank-you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Bookshelf Friday - Almost Like Being in Love by Beth Vogt

I was so happy this book released! Couldn't wait to get my hands on it because through the years I've fallen in love with Beth's books. So here's a short blurb and we'll chat on the other side!

Winning an all-expenses paid Colorado destination wedding might seem like a dream come true for some people—but Caron Hollister and her boyfriend Alex Madison aren’t even engaged. How is she supposed to tell him she’s won their wedding and honeymoon when he hasn’t asked her to marry him? Being “perfect for one another” seems like the absolute best reason to get married. But what if their supposedly faultless relationship is merely a safe place to protect his secrets and a way to keep their families happy? After quitting her job, Caron accepts her best friend’s offer to visit Colorado. She needs to catch her breath. Who knows, maybe visiting the destination wedding site will make a future with Alex seem like a reality.

Kade Webster just landed the biggest deal of his life with his company, Webster Select Realty, participating in the Colorado Springs Tour of Homes. He never imagined he would run into the woman who broke his heart—Caron Hollister—right when his career is taking off. Seeing her again, Kade can’t help but wonder why Caron walked away from him years ago, leaving him with no explanation. When Kade learns his home stager won’t be able to help with the Tour of Homes, he vaults past all the reasons he should stay away from Caron, and offers her a temporary job helping him on the project. This time, their relationship is purely business.

Spending time with Kade has Caron questioning everything. The man intrigues her—at times infuriates her—and reminds her of what she lost. Has she been settling for what everyone expects of her? Just because others believe she and Alex are an ideal couple, does that mean they should get married? And how can Caron say “I do” to one man when she’s wondering “what if?” about another?

The second in Vogt's Destination Wedding series, this book only adds to the reasons you'll want to have this group on your shelves. It's apparent why Vogt recently won a Christy for the first book in the series, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, as well as was nominated for a Carol. Vogt's storytelling grows stronger with each book she writes.

I loved the plot of this book and the characters who are trying to navigate it. I was invested from  page one and there was enough conflict, laughter, and drama (the good kind) to keep me there. Vogt's characters are real with their own quirks and issues which make them likable and relatable. Her stories are ones that linger even after the last page and have you waiting for the next to arrive. I'm hopeful there'll be a novella between this full-length title and the next:)

You can purchase Almost Like Being in Love here and I happily give it 5 out of 5 stars. Snap it up for the holiday weekend!

I thank the publisher for my copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.